Message to the board: ignore HR at your peril

As this week’s TUC conference begins, a survey of nearly 250 employers by
legal firm DLA shows that many could be in for a bumpy ride over the next few

The survey reveals that almost half of employers expect strike ballots,
double the amount last year. Meanwhile, TUC general secretary John Monks has
told Personnel Today he supports strike action over firms ending final salary
pension schemes (News, page 3). Another flash point is private finance and the
unions’ plan to lobby the Government to halt further private sector involvement
in public services. This is not good news for HR directors who believe
outsourcing deals are the best way to deliver services.

Meanwhile, fire fighters are threatening their first national strike since
1977, an unwelcome reminder for the Government of the bad old days of 1970s
industrial strife. Low public sector pay and unions’ disenchantment with New
Labour are key factors bringing about the new mood.

All of this means that old-fashioned industrial relations skills, left to
languish in the era of union partnerships, will have to be sharpened up again.
HR teams will need to make sure they have the competencies within their ranks
for tough negotiations, while at the same time building on the partnership
tradition of giving unions a stake in decisions which affect the organisation.

Consignia is one company that seems to have learned the lesson that HR
skills are essential to avoid workplace unrest. The company is about to appoint
a board-level HR director for the first time after damning reports on its
industrial relations and a history of wildcat strikes.

In this changing industrial climate, any organisation that ignores the need
for strong HR at the highest level does so at its peril.

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