A network for these times
.
.
.
Marc Bloomfield
The Employment Legal Advice Network (ELAN) was established by Trust for London in 2014 as a network of organisations dedicated to improving Londoners’ knowledge about their employment rights and how to enforce them. ELAN’s aims are to:
promote the effectiveness and coordinate the operation of the London employment rights advice sector;
share information, learning and experience;
identify areas for joint action; and
undertake initiatives and campaigns to promote knowledge of employment rights and access to justice.
By early 2020, ELAN comprised some 40 members drawn from London Law Centres and other front-line agencies, campaigning organisations and other bodies concerned with the promotion of employment rights in the not-for-profit (NfP) sector, such as LAG, LawWorks, the Free Representation Unit (FRU) and Advocate. Meeting quarterly, they discussed relevant issues, and collectively sought ways to navigate advice provision in the face of diminishing funds and the ever-complex needs of clients with employment issues. Chaired by Andrew Hillier QC, with Camilla Palmer QC (Hon) acting as a consultant to the network, ELAN has been a valuable addition to the sector since its inception, for example, working closely with the Greater London Authority to promote information about employment rights, particularly for those in precarious work, for whom English is their second language, and providing input into its Employment Rights Hub.
ELAN looked to continue as normal until March 2020 and the arrival of COVID-19 in the UK. As London went into lockdown, ELAN members faced extraordinary challenges. Employment advisers everywhere will recall those early weeks of lockdown - confronted with working from home, setting up remote advice services and a great deal of uncertainty, employment advice providers began to experience a period of unprecedented change. On 20 March, the government announced a series of wide-ranging measures to assist businesses and employees through the COVID-19 crisis, including a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. So began weeks of updates, additions, clarifications and exceptions for the advisers to work through, understand and apply to their clients. I can’t think of any legal environment (from City firms to the NfP sector) that would have navigated those first few months easily. That our members did so, with clients often unable to understand English and very vulnerable, is a testament to their dedication, professionalism and passion for access to justice.
In late March, I was appointed to a specially created post, funded by Trust for London and hosted by South West London Law Centres, with a view to coordinating and facilitating ELAN members’ response to the crisis. Keen to avoid duplication with other networks, I listened to members to identify their needs and how ELAN could help. The following months were as fast paced as any I’ve experienced in my career to date. Initially, meetings moved to weekly to accommodate the communal learning required in the light of the government’s updates. This offered a valuable opportunity to highlight how the new schemes failed certain groups and identify inconsistencies in the schemes. Campaigning members used such discussions as the basis of action plans for their work. Change was needed and made easier through collaboration.
Without the know-how departments seen in big firms, expert views on the application of the new guidance to the vulnerable worker clients of our network were crucial, and both City firms and the bar provided much-needed assistance to our members in a variety of ways. For example, Cloisters provided four interactive workshops, answering as many questions as were asked – a hugely valuable and very timely pro bono contribution for which ELAN is most grateful. ELAN also participates in, and provides feedback to, meetings of the cross-sector Legal and Advice Sector Roundtable, chaired by the Hon Mr Justice Knowles.
Based on the results of a recent survey, we know our members value the opportunities for collaboration with others who understand the complexities of their work, for shared learning and for policy analysis. The network has also matched volunteer employment law experts with members to act as mentors, building skills and expertise in the sector, something ELAN is very keen to implement more widely.
ELAN members are now witnessing the impact of the redundancies occurring as the coronavirus pandemic affects the economy. As of 22 September 2020, the figure was almost 203,000.1Source: ‘UK coronavirus job losses: the latest data on redundancies and furloughs’, Guardian, 18 August 2020. Note that this article continues to be updated. ELAN will continue to offer support throughout. Over the next six months, it aims to improve the referral process for ongoing pro bono casework support, collaborate on key policies in this sector and improve awareness of organisations providing employment advice. We invite any London NfP employment advice provider to join the network.
There is enormous goodwill amongst employment solicitors and barristers to assist in the crisis, which, I believe, is not yet being fully exploited. ELAN is keen to tap into this source and to match experienced volunteer lawyers with agencies desperate for this sort of help. If you are interested in joining the network or in volunteering opportunities using your employment expertise, please email: elan@swllc.org.
This is the first of a regular column updating on the work of ELAN and its members.
 
1     Source: ‘UK coronavirus job losses: the latest data on redundancies and furloughs’, Guardian, 18 August 2020. Note that this article continues to be updated. »

About the author(s)

Description: Victoria Speed - author
Victoria leads the Employment Legal Advice Network’s COVID-19 response, supporting organisations across the network in the delivery of their...