PricewaterhouseCoopers may be sued for breach of contract by employees at its Manchester office, who have been forced to work longer hours as a result of the merger that created the firm.
Leading employment barrister John Hendy QC said that, despite the firm’s assurances that staff had been given every opportunity to express their opinions, they could have a legal case.
The discrepancy emerged in documents outlining new working practices – obtained by Accountancy Age – issued by David Miller, managing partner at PwC’s Manchester Barbirolli Square office.
Prior to the merger, Price Waterhouse staff at the office worked a standard 35-hour week, while Coopers & Lybrand contracts stipulated a 37.5-hour week.
But in a letter addressed to all employees at the office, managing partner David Miller wrote: ‘Clearly this situation cannot continue as we move to co-location, and equally clearly it is sensible for the ‘out-of-step’ offices to change. Accordingly, we have decided to change the working week to 37.5 hours (9am to 5.30pm) for all PwC Manchester staff with effect from 1 April 1999.’
Miller told Accountancy Age that Manchester was an anomaly in terms of working hours within the firm and most people had already realised that things would have to change at the time of the merger.
He added that, when staff begin to co-locate from 1 June, they have to be starting and finishing at the same time.
The letter also recognised that those who claim overtime in relation to the 35-hour standard will not be able to review their salaries until 1 July.
Staff were consulted through open surgeries, and discussions were currently taking place with some individuals about their personal circumstances, he said.
‘We think we have acted properly and most people understand that it has to be done,’ he added.
But Hendy disputed that any firm could change the terms of a contract without the full authorisation of individuals and, based on the evidence he had seen, he said PwC’s Manchester staff could be entitled to take legal action, including seeking an injunction.
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