Eurotunnel deal is double-edged

A union recognition deal at Eurotunnel signed in June replaced a cavalier management attitude towards involving staff in decision-making, HR director Mark O’Connell told delegates.

“What is absolutely clear is that in the history of Eurotunnel, managers developed a slightly cavalier attitude to employee consultation and [staff] were experiencing a sense of frustration that they were not having the input they wanted.”

A subsequent survey of staff revealed more than half favoured a union recognition deal and discussions were started with four unions.

O’Connell described the deal with the Transport and General Workers’ Union as a positive move but told delegates that it also created problems.

The agreement, which gives the T&G exclusive negotiating rights to collectively represent staff, angered the rail union Aslef.

It has also created a second consultation mechanism running alongside the existing non-union arrangements, which line managers find a burden.

O’Connell explained that when Eurotunnel began commercial operations in 1994 there was enormous commitment and enthusiasm among employees for what they felt was an extraordinary project.

“By 1998 I think the enthusiasm gave way to normal issues and we found staff were changing their views about what the company should be doing for them.

O’Connell said the agreement with the T&G allows other unions to represent their members on individual matters. Aslef, however, remains unhappy at being excluded on a collective basis from representing members working in a rail business.

He added, “We have worked hard to arrive where we are today. Line managers do see the parallel consultation process as a burden and I have had to be honest and say to them that I don’t have the perfect solution.

“Hopefully, over time, the two processes will be reduced to just one, but at the moment I can’t see another way.”

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