Barclays’ consultation model transforms industrial relations

The
introduction of a Partnership agreement between Barclays bank with union Unifi
has turned round its strained relationships with staff in just three years.
Roisin Woolnough reports how

How
Barclays consults with its employees

Employer-employee
relations at Barclays bank were very strained a few years ago. “There was a
very bad dispute about pay in 1997 and industrial relations were at an all-time
low,” says Jim Lowe, national secretary for the banking union Unifi, and lead
officer at Barclays.

Some
of the bank’s employees were unhappy with the pay structure and went on strike.
As a result of the dispute, Barclays set up a Partnership agreement in early
2000, in conjunction with Unifi.

That
was a real turning point according to Lowe: “It has turned the situation around
and relationships are good now,” he says. “Nothing precludes us from taking
industrial action still, but this is about good industrial relations and
transparency.”

Mathew
Davies, employee relations manager at Barclays, agrees that the Partnership
initiative has made a tremendous difference. “Without it, I don’t believe we
would have been able to implement the changes we have, the way we have,” he
says.

The
bank received funding from, and worked closely with the Partnership Institute
at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Under the initiative, specific
Partnership meetings are held twice a year with senior bank executives dealing
with bank policy. Monthly consultations with HR, Partnership sub-committees and
a jointly accredited representatives scheme also take place.

Union
officials and lay members elected on a 50/50 basis are consulted over change
management policy, too. “The consultation aims to have a due process recognised
for change management,” says Lowe. “There’s a lot of transparency of
decision-making and they consult with us at a very early stage.”

One
of the areas the Partnership has focused upon is setting generic policies
across the bank. “It has been very valuable in terms of influencing some of
Barclay’s people policies,” says Davies. “Things such as flexible working, pay
deals, maternity policies, career break options and so on.”

Barclays
now has seven full-time health & safety reps across the UK who have been
trained by the TUC to improve H&S practices throughout the bank.

However,
it has taken time for employers and employers to properly accept the
Partnership scheme and understand how it works. “We brought reps and line
managers together to get a better understanding of what trade unions are about
and what the Partnership involves,” says Davies. “We had to change some deeply
entrenched attitudes that were prevalent in the business and had to put
together some active plans to achieve that.”

The
bank promotes the scheme both internally and externally, keeping insiders
informed of progress via e-mail and brochures. It promotes its policy
externally by working with the DTI, TUC and other unions.

Lowe
thinks there is still more work to be done in this area, however. “The idea of
consultation is still growing at middle management level,” he says. “It’s about
changing the culture of an organisation and that takes time, which is why we
developed Partnership in Practice – a training scheme involving line managers
and representatives.”

Another
issue for the bank has been that, being such a large, global company, not all
parts of the business are represented by the same union and some sections do
not recognise the union at all. This means there is a Works Council specific to
Africa, for example, and another one for the Caribbean. Barclays Capital, its
investment arm, does not recognise Unifi and so has Employee Forums that meet
on an ‘as and when’ basis.

Barclays
is hoping to be made an Employer of Choice and Davies thinks the Partnership
has a pivotal role in making this happen.

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