Partnership needs to be back on HR agenda

Common sense has for once prevailed in the review of a piece of employment
law.

The DTI has sensibly decided to tinker with, rather than overhaul, the
Employment Relations Act 1999.

The unions wanted the Government to extend trade union recognition law and
increase staff rights. But Alan Johnson, employment relations minister, turned
down demands for a reduction in the 40 per cent worker threshold that triggers
union recognition ballots. The law is working just fine, he says.

Unions should need a mandate among employees before gaining recognition, and
employers will be relieved by the decision. But union leaders have responded by
calling it a great victory for bad employers.

As with all employment law, union recognition will only work for everyone
involved if all parties embrace it. Hopefully, BSkyB’s recently departed HR
director is the exception rather than the rule – you cannot expect to avoid
union recognition by threatening your staff. If enough employees want
representation, then it is HR’s duty to support the process and make the union relationship
work.

The concept of partnership is starting to feel a little hollow in these
times of turbulent employment relations. And yet a genuine commitment is needed
more than ever. The forthcoming information and consultation directive – which
will force employers to communicate with the workforce ahead of structural
changes – will significantly change work relationships. If employers continue
to treat consultation as a dirty word, and if unions fail to be more realistic
about their roles and understand business drivers, then law will have to
prevail and opportunities will be wasted.

Mike Broad is assistant editor of Personnel Today

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