Employee choice proves a winner as Santander embraces new working model

Telecoms & Financial Services

Wednesday 7th July 2021

The ground-breaking agreement struck between the CWU and Santander in March to provide an innovative and progressive new framework for the post-Covid world of work has proved its value – with every single staff member being awarded their first-choice preference from a comprehensive menu of options.

Thrashed out against plans for the biggest transformation in the UK bank’s history, the CWU-brokered deal had at its heart the intention of preserving jobs and, above everything, avoiding compulsory redundancies that would otherwise have been inevitable as Santander embarks on an unprecedented rationalisation of its property estate.

Sally Bridge

Following the unveiling of radical plans for a complete rethink of pre-pandemic working arrangements – under which  four of major head office buildings will close in their entirety by the year’s end, with others consolidating to a smaller footprint – the Bank launched a jointly agreed company-wide employee preference exercise to establish which work location options worked best for individuals.

Today’s (Wednesday July 7))  announcement of the outcome comprehensively vindicates the hard work put in  by union and company negotiators to establish a way forward  that ensures a comparatively painless  transition from a traditional office-based working model to a hybrid based predominantly on homeworking.

Just under 1,900 CWU-represented grade employees currently based at the Bootle and Manchester Deansgate sites that are scheduled for closure on December 31 have opted to accept  new ‘dual location’ contracts –  under which they will permanently work mainly from home, but with regular attendances at nearby ‘collaboration hubs’ which are currently in the process of being set up.

Meanwhile, 1,101 colleagues at the former Alliance & Leicester headquarters campus at Carlton Park in Leicester – the second largest site at which the CWU is recognised for collective bargaining purposes –  have accepted the same ‘dual location’ arrangements.

Importantly, the preference exercise agreed between the CWU and Santander contained protections for those who simply cannot work from home for a variety of reasons – offering a process under which permanent office space would be prioritised for those with exceptional circumstances.

In the event, however, every single employee who applied for that option has been accommodated. Typically involving those who chose to attend the office rather than work at home during the pandemic, permanent desk space will therefore be provided for 44 colleagues at the new Bootle ‘hub’, which is currently scheduled to open on January 1.

At Carlton Park, where the consolidation of the campus into just one building is expected to be complete by the year’s end, 18 colleagues will be provided with permanent desk space, along with four more at the new ‘collaboration hub’ in Manchester,

Further demonstrating the value of the multiple options the CWU successfully ensured were offered in the preference exercise, 140 colleagues will undertake an 8-week trial of ‘dual location’ contracts without losing the opportunity of leaving the business on redundancy terms, should they decide that working from home is not for them.

Debbie Cort

CWU Telecoms & Financial Services Executive member for Santander and ALGUS national branch president, Debbie Cort, explains: “This option has predominantly benefitted people who opted against homeworking through the pandemic for a variety of personal reasons – often because they felt they didn’t have anywhere suitable to work from home or who had concerns about their Wi-Fi connection – but who are now prepared to try it out.

“From the outset the CWU National Team was resolute that we wanted individual choice to be at the heart of the process. That’s precisely what the preference exercise has  delivered – in the process enabling the Bank to achieve what it wanted in terms of the rationalisation of its estate – and the fact they’ve been able to do that fairly painlessly is a vindication of allowing people the option to decide what’s best for them.”

CWU national officer for Santander Sally Bridge agrees, concluding: “Although Santander’s site rationalisation announcement  back in March (see story here) came as a huge shock to many – with particular sadness understandably being felt in Bootle given the major investment that had previously been earmarked for that site – the subsequent agreement we reached  with the company has avoided compulsory redundancies and protected those for whom ‘dual location’ simply wasn’t a goer.

“In providing for meaningful employee choice, in what could otherwise have been an infinitely more painful site rationalisation process, the Bank has taken an important moral lead in what is likely to be the first of many corporate readjustments to the post-Covid world of work.”