My employer has recently undergone a number of changes internally, involving the move to different premises (with the argument about the new building being larger, however will accommodate roughly the same number of staff as the current building will occupy). As part of this, they have sent around an update to the employment contract which basically nullifies the flexible working hours which previously has been in effect. Many people I work with vary their working hours to fit in with their lives, and has been accepted - up to this point.
The business operated a core working hours of 10am to 4pm, but are changing this to 9am - 5pm, with a 30 minute "flexible start/end" that employees can start and end their working day (e.g; 8.30am to 5pm, or 9am to 5.30pm) - effectively removing the concept of flexible working hours completely. This affects many people's lives, and some of my colleagues are petitioning to retain their flexible working hours, of which are being met with strict rules surrounding a mandatory lunch hour/half hour, no option to work less than this to make up the time (despite being willing to), and one has been forced to drop their hours to 36/week.
They also put in a clause to the portion that they're wanting everyone to sign which says that everyone must specify when, between the hours to 12pm to 2pm, they will take their lunch, and must be rigid over this (unless a meeting is occurring, in which case that overrides your lunch hour and you must take it later). This was also met with protest, and they eventually caved and relaxed this rigidity slightly, then sent across some minutes from that meeting ratifying this. They will not, however, update the contract to reflect this as they've said that the meeting minutes ratifies it. However, we don't believe this would ever stand up in court if a dispute ever arose. Is this true?
The final part of this demands flexibility from the employee for the business's requirements (e.g; if a meeting runs late/starts early, the employee is expected to be there), but will not offer the same level of flexibilities to staff who currently have lives (unless they offer a rigid, business-valid justification for doing so). It's almost as if they're "offering" this 30 minutes of flexibility to save face because on paper the revision is a load of rubbish.
Many people do not want to sign this, as it significantly affects their lives (I myself work earlier in the morning to finish at 4pm to miss rush hour traffic in both directions, and so I have a little bit of daylight left at the end of the day - however I've been told that I would not be able to petition for flexible working hours with these reasons as they are not valid and would be rejected..and have also been told that I would be one of the worst affected by the change in rules). The move to the new building also offers no car parking space, so those that currently park on the company's property are effectively having to take a pay cut in order to pay for parking, or obtain an alternative means of getting to the office - usually at the additional expensive of significantly increased commute times.
My question is basically this - Can they legally do this? What are the options for employees if they disagree to the new rigid rules and will (or have) get a formal request for flexible working hours rejected because their reasons are not "valid" in the eyes of the business? If the company lets staff go as a result of not agreeing to these rigid terms, are there grounds for constructive/unfair dismissal?
Sorry I've rambled on a bit, but it's quite difficult to get a lot of this across. Hope someone can help.
Edit: sorry, jurisdiction is England & Wales. Company is based in England.