Thursday, 17 July 2008

Overtime - not always a good thing

Just before Christmas I was working on one of our usual 'Operation Overkill' jobs that the SMT (Senior Management Team) put together to show an overwhelming Police presence at times when lots of visitors or tourists are around such as the Christmas period, school holidays, Notting Hill etc. As usual, the only people actually earning overtime were those on ring fenced squads who the duties office 'forgot' to warn early enough and the office dwelling shiny arses who only ever turn out for double time, the rest of us were on a cancelled rest day. For those not in the know, this is a rostered rest day between shifts where we are ordered to work unpaid overtime in exchange for a rest day back, the kick in the teeth is that we are usually not allowed to take them, let alone normal annual leave, because we are always under strength, so they just get 'banked' and sit unused for months on end.

The nature of the op was the same as it always is, swamp a given area with ten times the normal number of Police officers on a Friday and Saturday night duty without providing extra custody space or a charge centre, no extra vehicles or computer terminals (can't use the locked offices as they are apparently personal issue and woe betide anyone who uses one at night) and role out people for official visits like MP's, 'strategic partners' or Judges so they can look at how many Police officers work at night. The response officers then role their eyes or shake their heads in disgust as said visitors say things like "wow, I thought Policemen complain they are always short staffed"

I was on a post near one of our 'high footfall areas' (or 'busy' as I like to call them) with a couple of guys from my team, all equally miffed at losing our weekend and finding out all the other people in our area were being paid overtime as we stood in our obligatory bright yellow vests which apparently makes people feel safer. Our job was to 'provide presence and reassurance' and also to discourage anti social behaviour from large groups of drunk/sober/young males and/or females and to proactively enforce local policy and prevent crime. Basically what we try and do every single weekend, but on a much larger scale so that when the SMT look at all the arrest figures on Monday morning they can pat themselves on the back and all sit in their group huddle wringing hands in glee.

Along with all the comments from people surprised at seeing ten Police officers on one street let alone a hundred or so in a small area, as a guy walked past me he said "alright lads?? On overtime are we??" as though he was talking to a five year old with his hand in the cookie jar after being told he couldn't have any. Before I could answer, one of my colleagues said "actually no, we've had our weekend cancelled so we're working for free while everyone else is being paid, and I personally have had to cancel a holiday that I'd already paid for because of it, so we've been royally shit on. But thanks for asking" The guy walked off with his mates in stunned silence, obviously unable to use his witty retort, had we said yes.

But this got me thinking, there are an awful lot of misconceptions in the public about how overtime is paid, who is eligible, what rate it's paid at and how available it is. After the pay dispute march there were loads of comments on the BBC's Have Your Say pages with people claiming that we can get all the overtime we want, that we get lots of days off to 'swan about' and that we get to pick and choose what jobs we get to do.

Firstly I would like to point out that overtime is exactly that - OVER TIME. Just like every other organisation in the UK, the Police are governed by the Working Time Regulations which restrict a working week to 40 hours. The shift patterns that we work all average out to 40 hours a week over the year whether we work 8, 10 or 12 hour shifts. Obviously if you work 12 hour shifts you are working a long day but the upside of that is you get a rest day for each day worked (such as 4 on, 4 off like the Fire Brigade although they get to sleep on night duties) whereas if you work an 8 hour pattern then you get the equivalent of a 2 day weekend after 5 days working. We already work as much as we are legally supposed to so any over time that we do work is above and beyond our existing shift, and we are compensated for it by having rest days or paid overtime should we be required/requested or instructed to work more.

My personal view now, is that my free time is worth at least as much to me as the organisation and if they want it, then they can buy it off me. Also, I'm entitled to my rest days just as much as everyone who works and if I wish to 'swan about' when everyone else is at work and I'm supposed to be off then that is my business! I quite like the saying "this is my weekend, I work shifts" when people ask me why I'm off at seemingly random times.

Just like the vast majority of officers I often worked without claiming any overtime or even hours in lieu. When I was a probationer I really had no clue how the overtime system worked or what I was actually entitled to take such as expenses for subsistence when working away from my normal base, or double time when given less than 8 days notice as it was at the time. I turned up, worked when I was told to, worked when it was offered to me and went in on my rest days to clear my paperwork tray down and book on for time in lieu for the hours I was there. When my payslip came through if I got paid overtime then great, if not, then I wasn't really bothered. The flip side of this was that I was permanently knackered and slept through my rest days, had virtually no work/life balance and saw my family, let alone my friends less than once a month if I was lucky.

The rules and regulations for how and when overtime is paid is strictly adhered to because of budget constraints and if there is any reason what-so-ever that the duties office can actually get out of paying us then they will. There are three main types of overtime that we can work - planned paid, planned unpaid and unplanned. The latter is the easiest one to explain, if we are at work and arrest someone and have to work over our rostered finish time then we would incur unplanned overtime AFTER the first half hour from when the shift is supposed to finish. We don't get paid for the first half hour at all however if you claim all the overtime as unpaid leave then you can claim that time back.

Unplanned overtime has to be authorised (in the Met anyway, other forces have different procedures) by the Duty Officer who is of the rank of Acting Inspector or above and is usually given strict limits such as 2 - 4 hours or as necessary and justified on a regular hourly basis. Each team has a strict overtime budget for the year and the team Inspectors are penalised in their annual PDR if they exceed the budget, so it is in their interest to not pay overtime if it can be avoided and will encourage the job being handed over to someone else, or even outright refusing to pay as I have seen a few times. Unplanned overtime is paid at the rate of time + a third after the first half hour is deducted. In the days of the overtime binder (it's now all electronically based) the different types of overtime were written in different coloured pens so they could be quickly identified. Unplanned as such is referred to as 'black' because it is standard paid overtime, doesn't need checking or confirming and was simply written in black pen.

Planned paid overtime happens when we receive either a warning for duty from the duties office, or if you are on rest days and called to be offered to work for a specific Op, such as manning up the core team when short staffed (hardly ever happens) or more regular 'Aid' warnings such as demos, football, Op Safeguard (housing prisoners at Police stations due to prison overcrowding) or role specific tasks for specialists. If we are warned with less than 15 days notice then we are entitled to be paid time + a half for the number of hours worked, referred to as green, or if the warning is less than 5 days notice it is paid at double time and is referred to as red.

Planned unpaid overtime happens when we are warned well in advanced for things like 'Force cancelled rest days' which would be New Year or Notting Hill for example where everyone has their rest days cancelled and are required to work unless they have already submitted leave applications that have been authorised. They are also used more often and more recently for expected high level public order events such as football fixtures where everyone eligible (such as public order trained or specialists) are cancelled as soon as the date is announced to avoid having to pay them overtime. Once the people ordered to work on those days are confirmed, anyone surplus to the operation has their rest days reinstated.

The main bone of contention at the moment is the extensive use cancelling rest days meaning we are unable to plan leave or get the leave applications refused only to find we don't get used, by then it's too late to plan as partners/families are unable to take leave at short notice with their employers. I have been cancelled for two days in a row to prevent me from claiming a recall to duty (as below) and then only ever getting one day back if worked. Unplanned unpaid overtime is also counted against budgets so the SMT's are penalised against the number of rest days or hours left on their books, the more outstanding untaken rest days, the higher the penalty.

This penalty means that the SMT invariably refuse requests from teams to work unpaid days to do things like team training, courses outside of normal work days, team planned ops such as ANPR (automatic number plate recognition system - scans intelligence databases for reports against specific vehicles/drivers), drugs/arrest warrants or rapid entry jobs. When I was a probationer and would go in on rest days I actually found out I wasn't supposed to but because I had work to show for it, it was honoured, however there is no way that we can do that now due to the budget costs.

In addition to the rates at which overtime is paid there are regs covering 'recall to duty' which is starting more than an hour before the force working day of 0700 hours or just over an hour going into a rest day following a night shift. These cover incidences such as in early morning raids where we start at 0400 (for example) or are supposed to finish at 0700 following a night duty and then work past 0815 following an arrest. A recall following nights has to be authorised by the duty officer and to get it passed it will have to be a 'decent' arrest such as a drink driver, serious assault or robbery, nicking any old rubbish will usually result in being told in no uncertain terms to sod off! A recall can be lucrative as it is a minimum of 4 hours and one hour travel at double time however after working a set of nights, most people are too knackered and to go actively hunting at 0600 knowing you will be doing at least an extra 2-3 hours after a 10 or 12 hour shift just isn't appealing despite the money, although most teams have at least one overtime bandit who actively seeks it.

As we are unable to simply pick and choose when we can do overtime (unless called and offered, but to refuse is a sure way of never getting called again) a good way of becoming more eligible to be allocated overtime is to get a specialist skill such as advanced driver, PSU driver (to drive public order carriers), public order trained, public order specialists, search trained or POLSA, custody Sgt, call handling/control room or to be surveillance trained etc. These courses are hard to get and we have to work towards them by evidencing suitability to even apply to some, let alone joining the back of a long list of people already waiting. They are invariably subject to minimum tenures at division or minimum levels of service/training before hand, they are also a double edged sword as although you are making yourself more eligible to work paid overtime, you are also making yourself more eligible to frequent cancellations and reallocated rest days.

Some specialists do get more pay by having mandatory overtime, however there is no extra pay for just being a specialist (such as firearms) everyone at the same rank gets paid the same for length of service regardless of skill sets or level of responsibility. Some specialist teams work an 8 hour shift pattern but have a mandatory 4 hours overtime so they work 12 hour days and get paid for the additional overtime, but get less rest days due to the 8 hour pattern. It is not for everyone, especially if you like to have your rest days, but I have a few mates in some specialist posts and depending on your needs it can be a good option.

After the 7/7 bombings and the subsequent attempts on 21/7, there was a massive amount of overtime going for a good 4 months which cost the Met tens of millions of pounds to run reassurance and extra security patrols around strategic and vulnerable sites. This did have quite an effect on crime within the areas that were being policed but there were also a lot of people physically run into the floor by having no time off to recover, which is why the Met now operate a policy of working no more than 7 days straight without a rest day, although it still happens. It also has meant that there is hardly any money available for normal overtime due to contingent budgets and the fact that the Met is still trying to claw back as much money from everywhere possible to make up for it. Contrary to some of the comments I've read by people on blogs and on news sites, we can't just walk into work and book on for double time on a whim.



blueknight said...

Good days and bad days. My best day was started at 5.00 am which was one hour into the previous rest day, which made 4 hrs, then from 6.00am, it was a Bank Holiday so it was double time. - And we did not finish until 01.30 am so it was nearly a weeks pay. I also did quite well on mutual aid over 5rest days. The first 4 were double time.
On the other hand, a large event was due to take place on our division so all rest days were cancelled months before. All the PCs from the other divisions who came to assist did the event on paid rest days, overtime and free meals. We did 13 or 14 days consecutively, with no overtime or benefits. One shift had to work 6 earlies followed immediately by 8 nights. -ouch.

Metcountymounty said...

I've had a few times where we've been cancelled to do aid on someone else's ground only to find out that all the local boys and girls have been earning, and then the same again on our own ground with people coming in on pay so it seems like we get constantly shat on!! You can't beat public order aid though, as long as you have a none griefy skipper and a sensible Guv, it's superb.

For The People said...

I only worked 18 hours yesterday. I get to work 12 today. But it is my day off!

Anonymous said...

That overtime system is rubbish!!

My station does 12 hour shifts so I (in theory) only work 4 days a week. The way night shifts are classed means this is not always the case. On our rest days we can make ourselves available for overtime. If we are offered a shift we get it at time and half and can claim mileage from base at 23p per mile.

The only issue arises on pulic holidays. If I'm working my rostered shift on.....say.... Christmas day I get paid at normal time. If I'm working with someone out on overtime they are being paid at double time. That stings a bit!

Blue Eyes said...

As a taxpayer I would be willing to pay a significant addition sum on my precept to see even a relatively short burst of street presence similar to post 7/7. In those few days London felt significantly safer. Anyone who says that "reassurance" isn't important doesn't really understand policing.

Is there some way in which the MPS could be re-organised so that more officers spend more of their time out and about?

blueknight said...

Trouble in paradise?
I am currently in Malta for a few days R+R.
I read in the local papers that the local Police had to work very long and unexpected duties in the hot sun for the public transport strike which has just ended. Their complaints included the fact that they were not provided water and ended up having to buy their own. The 'meals' were unpalatable cold spaghetti with a blob of tomato sauce. They were not given any info as to where they would be working, - if they had the ones in the open air could have have brought sun cream with them.
They all worked overtime and they are wondering when they will be paid, as they are still waiting for the last lot of overtime to be paid.
It gives me no satisfaction to point out that it is not just the UK Police that get shafted

Anonymous said...

Blue Eyes....I believe that Jacqui Smith has got Jan Berry tasked to sort out that one, by getting rid of some of the mind numbing paperwork. 3 cheers for Jacqui and Jan! Women are good at problem solving, or so the research says, because women's brains are "wired" differently to mens. Well yes, we knew that already.....

Er Indoors

Alwyn said...

... but you said before you were nowhere near the action on 7/&

Metcountymounty said...

Louise - the overtime system is alright when you get your head around it and fortunately public holidays are paid at double, the bad thing about it is that we fall way below our normal minimum levels on bank holidays because the Job doesn't want to pay massive amounts in overtime, the fact that crime goes up because people go out more and we are run ragged doesn't come into it typically. One thing I didn't put in the post is that the overtime system actually gives us a level of protection as well, the job simply can't drag people in at a whim with little or no notice without paying the cost. Leave or protected rest days can only be called off in times of emergency whereas if we become salaried and give up our overtime for the sake of a few grand a year more then I could see plenty of people leaving the job, not for the money, but for the fact that we will have no right to turn down re-rostered duty days and home lives will be destroyed. A work life balance is hard enough as it is with shifts as you know, but without some protection I could see plenty of divorces and an exodus.

Blue eyes - just as every Police blog has been saying from DC's excellent first one, the best way to get more police on the street permanently - to the levels that we saw in London in the months after the bombings - would be to get rid of all the bureaucratic nonsense and the relative departments and personnel created for that single purpose then put all the Police officers available back out on permanent beats and in larger and better equipped response teams. As I've said on here before if you hammer a place for long and hard enough with enough Police and robust action then criminals very quickly get the hint and either stop or at least move out of the area until the heat dies down, the key is to keep the pressure up which we only do for a few days or at weeks at the most until the funds dry up. After the massive amount of aid that we did after the bombings some places took longer to get back to pre 7/7 levels but it doesn't take people too long to realise there aren't 20 odd coppers walking around an estate or parked up in vans 30 seconds away, none of whom will take any shit, especially anything like the incident that happened in Croydon a few days ago.

blueknight - my main complaint from public order aid is always water, you can never get enough of it. The shit food and 16-18 hour days kitted up are a given, but its not hard for someone to send a carrier down to the local canteen and raid the water stores. Again as you well know it's the little things like that which make the duty considerably easier to handle, the last thing anyone needs when tired and vexed is a dehydration headache!!

alwyn - as I said before on the day itself I was not on duty but I work with a lot of guys who were in the tunnels so have a good idea from them what it was like but only they know the full extent of the incident. Having worked my fair share of 20-24 hour shifts I know how much that in itself hurts, let alone with dealing with psychological trauma as well. The massive overtime commitment afterwards which I referred to in the post was met-wide and lasted for months afterwards. Every single borough but especially those central had enormous aid commitments with people bolstering security around vulnerable and busy areas and high visibility reassurance patrols in populated areas with virtually everyone earning a good whack of overtime as well as normal shifts. It started to take its toll after about 4 weeks with people turning down 12 hour double time duties as the need to recover was greater than the need for cash. As I referred in the title, money is good, but not always. Sleep deprivation has never killed anyone buy physical exhaustion has and lots of people - including myself at a couple of points - had remove themselves to spend a couple of days sleeping just to recover, and it did get dangerous a few times with the amount of hours firearms, other specialists and drivers were having to put in.

Thanks for the comments everyone, I probably won't be putting another post up for a few days due to home stuff so feel free to talk amongst yourselves for a bit....

max said...

Are you on a rest day.... ;)

TheBinarySurfer said...

You guys do get shafted on "time in lieu", it's almost a running joke whenever someone says that i hear?

When a friend left his force about a year ago he found out he had about 90-95 days saved in addition to his standard annual leave.

He had been in less than 5 years. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that (on the plus side, they did have to honor it with paying him for 3 months after he left which was good).

Still i suppose it saves the fed on your pension to work you into the ground. There's a horrible statistic i read somewhere that says most officers die within 10 years of retirement (although in fairness, that's not unique to coppers - all lifelong shift-workers have a significantly reduced life expectancy).

For The People said...

I know what you mean! Keep us informed!

Metcountymounty said...

Max - I work on the probability that the DPS already know who I am and where I work and even monitor my work account so everything I do on here is on rest days, to do otherwise would just be stupid!!

Binarysurfer - One of the drivers on my team has in enough leave and rest days to take off 6 months solid, he has even enquired about selling them to us at £25 a time which would be great although he really needs the time off, and duties wouldn't let him do it anyway. The problem with it is if you have a skill then you not only get normal annual leave rejected but you just can't take the re-rostered rest days. The Job is supposed to pay them after they have been unused for 60 days but I've never seen it happen, our fed rep told me once why they can get away with it but I forgot the reason and just put it down the usual 'job's f&cked'
I've also been shafted with it, I lost about 35-40 full days when I left my old force which I wasn't amused about.

Denise said...

Found your blog today. Really interesting. I am not in law enforcement but my Dad was a 30 year career police officer on the Staffordshire Police Force back in the 60s. He was a Det. Inspector on the CID.

Metcountymounty said...

thank you for taking the time to post a comment Denise, when the calm has returned at home in the not too distant future I'll be putting more posts up but in the meantime feel free to have a read of some of the older stuff!!

Anonymous said...

Just wait until they buy out our overtime. They'll own us then. It's the budget constraints that stop them from doing it now. Look what happened to the Inspectors.

The office whallah's won't be safe either, even though they'll probably be the ones to vote "yes" to it. As soon as the bosses see that they can keep them in work buckshee it'll be "I know you're crime prevention/diversity etc but I need you to put your bick hat and yellow coat on".

It'll take a year or so for them to get used to it, then watch out!

Metcountymounty said...

anon above, I agree completely. The thing which is going to get us when they try it is people who don't do a lot of overtime (for pay that is) could be easily tempted by a £3-5k pay increase in lieu of paid overtime. We actually had this conversation a little while back in parade and the people who said they would vote yes are the ones who haven't been in long or don't volunteer for overtime as it is. Personally I wouldn't take a £10k increase in lieu of it, I like my rest days and not having my life completely screwed about with at short notice without some form of compensation or protection!

krizzle said...

can someone please help me......i am aware that you get paid overtime pay....time and a half after working forty hours a week/full time. I heard a rumor that you get paid double after working at least fifty hours per week. Is there any truth to this rumor???

Metcountymounty said...

krizzle - no that isn't true. The rate at which overtime is paid is dependant on the amount of notice (or lack thereof) which is given, not on how many hours you have already worked. Double time is only paid on public holidays or when an officer has received less than 5 days notice to work instead of being on a rest day - this can be voluntary or a lawful order to work for extingencies of duty. As you might have guessed from the post it is a bit hard to get your head around the way we get overtime at first but you get used to it after a while. Time and a half is for duties where we get less than 15 days notice to change shifts from a rest day, normal 'flat' overtime which is above and beyond a rostered shift is paid at time and a third after deducting the first half hour. If for example the more hours you worked the higher rate of overtime you would get, it wouldn't take a genius to realise that people would go out of their way to arrest suspects at the end of the shift in order to rack up the 40 hours so they get more over time out of it.

Funnily enough we see this with security guards at shops where they will not get any shoplifters all day and then they'll conveniently stop a dozen an hour before closing so they get paid overtime. If the Police did this we would have allegations of 'noble cause corruption' at the very least, if not straight corruption itself.