leader Bob Crow points the finger at HR for lacking the skills and experience
to negotiate with unions and reach agreement before disputes escalate out of
Employers need to regain the ability to settle workplace disputes "over
a pie and pint", according to abrasive RMT leader Bob Crow.
Speaking exclusively to Personnel Today, Crow believes a lack of training in
industrial relations within HR is one of the reasons for the upsurge in strike
action over the past 12 months. He believes informal bargaining and negotiating
skills have slipped off the employment relations agenda and need reviving.
He called on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development to
introduce more practical training in its HR qualification to equip employers
with skills to prevent workplace disputes from escalating into strikes.
"It is not just over the table that issues can be resolved, it can be
done with a pie and a pint. We can walk round the corner and say ‘this is where
we are coming from, where are you coming from?’ and reach an agreement,"
Besides the ongoing firefighters’ strike, high-profile industrial disputes
over the past 12 months have included the first nationwide industrial action by
local government staff over pay for 25 years and strikes to support an increase
in London Weighting.
Disputes over pay also interrupted South West Trains and Arriva Trains
Northern services and hit Manchester Airport, while concerns over safety led to
social security staff walking out.
Crow believes many of these strikes could have been avoided had the hands-on
industrial relations skills of HR professionals involved been up to scratch.
"People who have come into HR seem to go a bit too much by the text book
for me. They have gone to university, yet have not been told how things
actually happen," said Crow.
"I’m not against people being taught the theory of industrial
relations, but they need the practical know-how as well. Their training should
be practical – about the reality of industrial relations life out there in the
Foster good relations
However, Crow dismissed suggestions that industrial relations are at crisis
point. He believes the current industrial relations climate is a good one.
"In the main industrial relations are very good, there is a bit of ‘to-ing
and fro-ing’ which you will always get.
"At the end of the day the only way you are going to get something is
by fighting for it. No-one is going to come along and say ‘we feel sorry for
you, here is a pay rise’, " he said.
Crow wants HR professionals at all levels to foster a good working
relationship with their opposite number in their organisation’s recognised
union or employee representative body. He believes this would help reduce
industrial tension and promote openness and constructive discussion.
Despite his criticism of HR, Crow supports the profession’s bid for a
strategic role within organisations, and wants more money invested in the
function. "I would support having an HR director on every board so there
is HR input at the highest level in every company," he said.
"Organisations put a great deal of emphasis on HR when there is a dispute
rather than putting the emphasis on it before there is a problem to ensure
resources are already in place to help resolve things."
The RMT leader is critical of union/employer partnership agreements. He said
he would never sign a ‘no strike’ deal with an employer and believes that any
savings an organisation makes through a partnership deal should be split
equally with staff to improve their terms and conditions.
"Some of the unions that have signed up to partnerships agreements have
basically handed themselves over to the employer lock stock and barrel,"
he said. "Organisations know the unions will never take strike action. So
where has it got them?"
Union members on the board
Crow questioned the value of union members sitting on company boards – as in
the case of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency featured in Personnel Today (4
"Union officials on the board! I mean what are they going to do? Are
they really decision- makers? I don’t think so. It’s just paying lip service.
They are there as a bit of a stooge so companies can say they have trade union
members on the board who are being consulted."
Crow believes union militancy rather than partnership with employers is the
way to increase flagging union membership. A recent report by the London School
of Economics and the Policies Studies Institute revealed that union membership
has dropped by a third in the past 18 years.
"Trade union members have been disillusioned with paying money in to a
union that pays lip service to their needs," said Crow.
"Members want to see that their union is punching away for them. If
they see the trade union is fighting for them then they think ‘that is for my
The RMT’s membership statistics support his claim. Since hardliner Crow was
elected to succeed Jimmy Knapp as general secretary of the RMT last year, the
union’s membership has jumped by 13 per cent from 55,000 to 63,000.
Crow speaks out for the firefighters…
Crow described the Government’s
threat to impose a pay deal on the striking firefighters as
The Fire Bridges Union (FBU) is demanding a 40 per cent pay
rise to take starting pay to £30,000 a year, while the Government has offered
an 11 per cent increase over three years, linked to modernisation of the
The RMT general secretary believes the Government should let
the FBU and employer negotiate a settlement, then worry about how it will be
Crow fears Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s threat to
force a settlement could have serious implications for industrial relations.
"The Government’s threat to introduce new anti-trade union
laws is scandalous," he said. "Jack Straw has already gone back on
his word and stopped prison officers from striking. Who will it be next –
railway workers, public sector workers?
"When staff realise that they cannot withdraw their labour
they will just walk out illegally. What will happen if 10,000 London
Underground workers walk out? What will the Government do, put them in prison?"
…but blasts Mason’s role in tube
Crow launched a scathing attack on London Underground’s (LU) HR
director Bob Mason for his role in
strikes by tube train drivers last autumn.
Crow and Mason clashed last year when RMT train drivers on the
Tube walked out over pay. Crow claims that LU broke its promise to reduce the
£1,600 pay gap between drivers of passenger and engineering trains.
The dispute was only resolved when London Mayor Ken Livingstone
promised he would take the dispute to non-binding arbitration when he takes
responsibility for the tube this spring.
"I’ve got no time for the bloke at all," Crow said of
Mason. "The mayor has made it clear he [Mason] will not be staying when he
takes over the Tube."
"Mason has been parachuted in by the Government to smash
the unions, yet he is the one who caused the problems." Crow said the RMT
wanted to take the dispute to arbitration, but Mason refused.