Moderate memories

Tony
Blair’s Government will no doubt look back with nostalgia at the tenure of Sir
Bill Morris at the Transport & General Workers Union (T&G).

After
12 years as the union’s general secretary, Morris retires this week to spend
more time with his grandchildren (page 1). The veteran leader, who was knighted
in the summer, has been a key player on the British political scene.

His
reputation for successful high-profile battles with employers and the
Government has been all the more remarkable because of his moderate style and
quiet determination. Unlike his predecessors, Morris was never a firebrand, yet
he championed worker issues and race relations with incredible persuasiveness
and projected a strong yet reasonable face of trade unionism.

The
T&G’s 800,000 members are now in the hands of left-winger Tony Woodley, who
made his name with campaigns to save UK car factories. Woodley insists he is
not a radical, but he wants unions to "act like trade unions as opposed to
acting like they are businesses".

The
new breed of union leaders has a lot to learn from the success and mistakes of
the past. Morris has said it is now Labour’s turn to give credit back to the
unions for their support in reducing industrial disputes and working in
partnership.

Union
membership has fallen from 13 million to seven million, and it will be
interesting to see if the likes of Woodley can stop the haemorrhage. If unions
are right that UK employees are so disengaged with working life, then we have
to assume there will be revived interest in union representation. But the road
ahead could be fraught with difficulties. Probably the biggest challenge is
changing attitudes. The general perception of unions seems to be a long way
away from Morris’s vision of "caring, sharing and supporting"
organisations.

Mixed
fortunes on temps

Employers
have won a reprieve on the EU Agency Workers Directive more by luck than
planning. Brussels is incapable of speeding through the changes that would give
temporary workers the same employment rights as full-time colleagues. Many
employers will be delighted as they feared spiralling costs and more red tape,
but UK firms cannot afford to be complacent.

The
directive may have stalled – probably for another 15 months – but it is still
likely to happen. The CBI will use its influence to change minds on this
directive, and those sectors making heavy use of agency workers would be wise
to do the same. HR has a major role to play in clarifying the employment status
of temps even before, or if, the directive becomes law.

By
Jane King, editor

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