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The preference-based scheduling (PBS) roster system used in Police comms centres has been shown to have been a failure.

PBS is one of two rostering systems used in Police comms centres and both have rated poorly in a recent staff survey. Combining that with other staff feedback, the Police Association now considers PBS to have been an experiment that has failed.

PBS was introduced at the insistence of Police in the 2015 pay round and has caused significant and ongoing angst for many staff.

Three years ago PBS was applied to all new staff. The original base roster system has continued for existing communicators and supervisors.

The base system consists of progressive rosters generated four to six weeks ahead, with sliding shift changes being made up to 28 days ahead and with changes still being made after this time. The PBS process involves planning and entering shift preferences through stages of negotiation and shift swapping until the schedules are finalised for three months ahead.

The combined Police/Police Association survey done earlier this year covered three groups – staff working under both systems and supervisors.

The results showed that 61 per cent of the surveyed supervisors rated the process as poor and very poor (16% said it was adequate, 7% said it was very good and good). Among PBS communicators, 30 per cent gave a total negative rating (46% said it was adequate and 24% were positive).

Among base roster communicators, the percentage who rated their system poorly was 41 per cent (40% said it was adequate and 20% were positive).

While supervisors were the most negative of the three groups, all three had only relatively small numbers who rated the processes as good or very good.

The results suggest processes need to improve for all three groups to raise morale and satisfaction with the rostering system.

The main issues identified in the survey were:

• Words and phrases selected by PBS communicators to describe the planning phase were “a hassle”, “stressful”, “takes too long” and “difficult”, although 57 per cent said it was worth the time and effort of having input into shifts.

• PBS communicators found it difficult to find the time to enter their preferences into the system.

• Both supervisors and PBS communicators were fairly negative about the negotiation process (46% of PBS communicators were negative, 21% were positive).

• Many supervisors said it was more difficult to support PBS communicators and encourage teamwork than it was with base roster communicators. However, PBS communicators did feel strongly supported by their supervisors.

• Both groups of communicators were relatively negative about being able to work their allocated shifts or their roster without feeling overtired and without it affecting their wellbeing. However, both groups were relatively positive about their work-life balance and their ability to plan their work schedules around their home life.

• All three groups were unanimous that several staffing aspects of scheduling were getting worse, such as: ensuring staff were not overbusy; ensuring there were enough staff on shifts to meet demand; and providing relief cover. PBS staff also commented on the unfairness of the shift allocations.

• Base roster communicators were not particularly happy with the process to handle sliding shifts and with the level of notice that a shift had slid.

• There was a need for more information and practical training for all parties, particularly supervisors.

The association knows there are members who joined Police comms on the basis that they could have some choice over their work hours and we know they are comfortable with the system. However, the issues with PBS are irresolvable, which has left the association, and Police, with a dilemma of how to move smoothly away from PBS. Although there may not be unanimous support for what a replacement system would look like, it has to be better than PBS.

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