Last week’s rantings by the unions, Government and employer lobby over
worker rights did nothing to help the drive towards partnership and
consultation. But as our columnist Stephen
Overell suggests this week these public spats at TUC conference time have
become a bit of an annual farce.
Both sides seem to have conveniently forgotten their achievements so far –
brought about by collaboration not conflict. The unions and employers supported
the Government in tackling long-term difficult decisions such as the
independence of the Bank of England, cutting debt, tough fiscal rules and the
new deal to ensure the UK avoided recession and achieved economic growth.
In return, they were promised low inflation and economic stability. That
subsequently led to increased investment in the public sector and the
introduction of wider social justice, including the minimum wage and
far-reaching human rights. Some 1.6 million jobs have been created in the past
six years and UK employees are better protected than ever.
The unions are demanding employment rights equivalent to those in Germany,
ignoring that half of Europe is now in recession. Germany’s mire of employment
law is a key factor in its high unemployment.
Employers will be relieved to know that the Government is continuing to
resist these arguments so that a more flexible labour market can be maintained
It’s not clear whether the mood of the ‘awkward squad’ union leaders is in
tune with members of the RMT, T&G and Amicus. HR working in these sectors
ought to have its finger on the pulse of the mood. Certainly, the TUC’s general
secretary Brendan Barber and his predecessor John Monks (now head of the
European TUC) do not appear to be men ready for widespread industrial unrest.
And while awareness about worker rights is increasing, there is inevitably a
lot of ignorance about the new legislation on the shopfloor. Most workplaces do
not feel like hotbeds of militancy at the moment.
The Government must deliver on partnership with the unions and give them a
bigger role in policy-making. Big business has to invest, innovate and show a
greater willingness to inform and consult workers on key decisions. And in
return for these changes, the unions have to mature into constructive players,
capable of listening and responding to their members and to the legitimate
concerns of employers.
By Jane King, editor of Personnel Today