The law allows for you to negotiate workforce agreements on certain matters.
A workforce agreement is an agreement between an employer and its employees whose terms and conditions of employment are not covered by a collective agreement. A collective agreement is made between the employer and an independent trade union recognised by that employer.
Workforce agreements on working hours
The Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 set maximum working hours, minimum rest breaks and minimum paid annual leave.
You can agree by voluntary agreement with your workforce to vary certain aspects of the regulations, eg rights to rest periods and breaks.
Note that the 48-hour working-time limit cannot be varied by workforce agreement. However, individuals can choose to agree to work beyond the 48-hour limit. This is generally referred to as an opt-out and must be in writing and signed by the worker.
Read more on hours, rest breaks and the working week.
Workforce agreements on parental leave schemes
Employees with young or disabled children are entitled to take unpaid time off to look after those children.
The law sets out certain minimum conditions for parental leave, but you can agree - via a workforce agreement - your own parental leave scheme with your employees.
Read more on agreeing a workplace parental leave scheme.
Workforce agreements on the use of successive fixed-term contracts
If a fixed-term employee has their contract renewed (or is re-engaged on a new fixed-term contract) when they already have a period of four or more years of continuous employment, the renewal or new contract automatically becomes a permanent contract.
However, employers and representatives of employees may agree - via a workforce agreement - objective reasons for fixed-term contracts renewed beyond four years to remain fixed term.
Any agreement may also limit the use of successive fixed-term contracts by applying one or more of the following:
- a limit on the number of successive fixed-term contracts
- a limit on the total duration of successive fixed-term contracts
- a list of permissible objective reasons justifying renewals of fixed-term contracts
For example, representatives of employees in an industry where it is traditional for employees to work on fixed-term contracts may agree with the employer that the nature of the work is an objective reason for continuing to renew fixed-term contracts beyond the four-year limit.
Read more on understanding fixed-term contracts.
Electing representatives for workforce agreements
If there are no pre-existing representatives in place, you must arrange to elect employee representatives to negotiate the workforce agreement with you.
To do this, you should:
- decide on the number of representatives to be elected
- ensure candidates are members of the workforce on the date of the election or, in the case of a group, a member of the group to whom the agreement is to apply
- allow each employee a vote for each representative to be elected to represent them
- ensure as far as is reasonably practicable that they are elected by secret ballot
- ensure that the votes are counted fairly and accurately
Rights of representatives for workforce agreements
Such employee representatives have certain rights, which - if you breach them - could lead to an industrial tribunal claim against you. See employment-protection rights for employee representatives.