Effective union/HR partnerships will smooth path through economic downturn

The only way for organisations to survive the economic crisis is for unions and employers to work towards a common goal, senior HR figures have insisted.

Last week, Derek Simpson, joint-general secretary of super-union Unite, warned HR professionals to prepare for war with trade unions as employees became desperate for higher wages to cope with soaring food and fuel prices.

But at Harrogate, British Airways HR director Tony McCarthy said survival during a recession relied on official and unspoken partnerships between employers and unions.

“We’ve all got some huge credit-crunch issues, revenue issues, oil prices are an issue, and we can only overcome them all if we work together,” he told Personnel Today.

Neil Perry, HR director at insurer Legal & General, told delegates that his partnership with Unite often involved sharing staff pay data and drafts of business proposals to ensure a culture of openness existed. More than 40% of the firm’s 10,000 UK staff are members of the union.

Satish Pradhan, executive vice-president (group HR) for Tata, which recently purchased Jaguar and Land Rover, said HR should not think of unions as adversaries.

“They have may a different viewpoint to us,” he said. “But we have to work together, and must ensure that, at the end of the day, we’re working for the greater good.”

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