HR welcomes unions that argue their case

Personnel Today’s columnist Stephen Overell was right about one thing when
he forecast the demise of partnership between employers and unions in his
recent article – every newly-elected union leader has run on a ticket of
slagging off partnership. It forms part of the campaign to appeal to the
activist rump that decides the election of general secretaries.

Of course, the RMT and Unison are not sold on the idea of partnership
co-operation, and there have always been mixed feelings on the issue within the
T&G. However, I see no evidence to support Overell’s assertion in his piece
‘End of marriage made in hell?’ (Off Message, 24 June) that HR managers have
always been sceptical about partnership.

I have always found that personnel professionals welcome unions that argue
their case strongly and focus on big issues such as restructuring, skill
levels, redundancy management or the impact of new products and services.

As we look ahead to implementation of the Information and Consultation
Directive – which will become law for larger companies in 2005 – I would
challenge any of the critics of partnership to show how it differs from the
European model of social dialogue.

Two models of the workplace exist that are vying for supremacy. The first is
the North American model of limited intervention, maximum flexibility, and
devil take the hindmost. At the moment, it is this model which is in the

The other is the European model based on social cohesion, protection for the
vulnerable and taking the ‘high road’ of skill and development as a route to

This particular model is under a great deal of pressure and we have perhaps
10 years to redress the balance. Vital to this project is the need to prove
social dialogue and union engagement delivers success for the economy and the
people working in it.

The union movement needs leaders who have the foresight to see where the
real battle lies. They need to have the courage to tell those members who are
spoiling for a scrap that disengagement is not an option.

As yet, there is no sign that any of this is understood. A vocabulary of
secondary picketing, co-ordinated action, single channel and freeloaders sounds
suitably macho, but offers little to those grappling with the restructuring of
the global economy, job transfers to China or India, or pension meltdown.

A retrenchment to the mantras of class struggle will send a frisson of
excitement through some commentators. It will also serve to marginalise unions
at a time when they need greater engagement, not less.

By William Coupar, Director, IPA

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