Many thanks for your patience. It is a very difficult time for your industry at the moment and I have been in touch with a few others from other airlines who are being affected in similar ways.
My suggestion is to still go back to them to try and negotiate a VR exit on the basis that doing what they are now proposing will likely end up in you having to take things further. What the airline may rely on is that you will not legally challenge them as burning any bridges in the airline industry can have a significant effect on future employment opportunities.
As far as the legal position is concerned, there are occasions when an employer may try and make changes to an employee’s contract of employment. If they wish to do so, there are a few ways, in which they can do it:
· Receive the employee’s consent to the changes.
· Give the employee the required notice to terminate their current contract and re-engage them under a new contract containing the changes.
· Simply force the changes through with no notice or consultation.
The following options are available to employees to challenge these actions:
1. If the employer forces the changes through, the employee can start working on the new terms, then write to the employer making it clear that this is done ‘under protest’. This means that they do not agree with the changes but feel forced to do it as they have no other option. In the meantime, they should try and resolve the issue by raising a formal grievance with the employer. This is only a short-term solution though as the longer someone works under the terms, even under protest, the more likely it is that they will eventually be deemed to have accepted them.
2. If the employer gives notice to terminate the current contract and re-engages the employee under a one, it could potentially amount to unfair dismissal. However, the employer can try and justify their actions if they had a sound business reason for doing so, usually from an urgent financial perspective. If no such reason exists, it is possible to make a claim for unfair dismissal in the employment tribunal, subject to having at least 2 years’ continuous service with that employer. This would be on the grounds that there has technically been a dismissal because the original contract was terminated by the employer.
3. If the changes fundamentally impact the contract, for example changes to pay, duties, place of work, etc., it is also possible to resign and claim constructive dismissal. The employee must accept the changes and immediately resign in response to them. A claim is again dependent on the employee having at least 2 years' continuous service with the employer.
It is worth mentioning that there is a possible alternative solution, where the employer is approached on a 'without prejudice' basis (i.e. off the record) to try and discuss the possibility of leaving under a settlement agreement. Under such an agreement, the employee gets compensated for leaving the company with no fuss and in return promises not to make any claims against the employer in the future. It is essentially a clean break, where both parties move on without the need for going to tribunal. However, it is an entirely voluntary process and the employer does not have to participate in such negotiations or agree to anything. It just means that these discussions cannot be brought up in any subsequent tribunal claim and prejudice either party. So there is nothing to lose by raising this possibility with the employer as the worst outcome is they say no, whereas if successful it can mean being allowed to leave in accordance with any pre-agreed terms, such as with compensation and an agreed reference.
Does this answer your query?