Letter of the week

Major part of law is to give choice

• Your story on union recognition and the Central Arbitration Committee (Personnel Today, 25 July) seems a bit wide of the mark.

A major plank of the union recognition provisions under the Employment Relations Act 1999 is to allow employers some choice in the question of which union they might want to recognise.

The import of the case of the Prison Services Union/Prison Officers’ Association and Premier Prison Services is the same as that in a number of other recent cases, such as Aslef/TGWU at Eurotunnel, ISTC/TGWU at JVC electronics or AEEU/TGWU at Rosti plastics – that is that employers can forestall “advances” from one union for recognition by voluntarily recognising another.

While Acas might become involved in such cases, it would seem unlikely that the CAC would overturn such a central tenet of the new legislation. I would expect the CAC to say it doesn’t have a remit to be involved in these cases (unless there is an attempt to derecognise what may be seen as a non-independent “sweetheart” union by a group of workers and gain recognition for an independent union using statutory means).

This also means it is only a partial truth for the POA to lament that the “abuse of the thrust of the law”, however great that injustice might actually be. Now we can begin to see in practice the strictures of a law which was heavily influenced by lobbying from employer organisations.

Dr Gregor Gall

Senior lecturer in industrial relations

University of Stirling

Analysis, p13

Flexible mums a valuable resource

• I have just read your article “HR holds the key to firms survival in flexible future” (Personnel Today, 4 July) and would like to make the following comments.

I believe it will take a long time for the vast majority of employers to realise mothers can make a major contribution to a company under flexible working hours.

The “enlightened” employers you mentioned must be in a very small minority. As a mother of two, I have had to return to full-time work to: a) make it financially practicable (after paying a childminder/nanny), and b) to be able to work at the same level in the company that I enjoyed before becoming a mother.

I have many friends with professional qualifications and many years’ experience who are also in the dilemma of work versus children. If there is any way we can show employers we are capable of holding down a responsible job even on a part-time basis I would love to know what it is.

Name and address supplied

References must be used with care

• After reading “Words of warning when writing staff references” (Legal, 27 June), I totally agree with Louise Fairhurst’s comments.

Writing a reference is a worrying task, not to mention receiving a reference and wondering how accurate it is.

But where would we be without them? One of the recommendations of the report made post-Beverley Allitt was to take up two references (at least one from the previous employer) for nursing staff in the NHS. If references had been taken up on Allitt they may have found she had missed 126 days out of 110 weeks of training due to unrelated and insubstantiated health problems. This may have indicated that she suffered from Munchausen Syndrome and given cause to question it.

This is not an isolated case. When I worked as a personnel officer for the NHS, I came across a situation where a reference on a nurse was refused. On probing further, I found he been administering his own prescriptions and had almost killed a patient.

I do not believe we should scrap references, but they should be used and given wisely. I certainly bear references in mind, but also put them in perspective to the position applied for.

Emma Gilroy

Personnel and training officer

Peverel OM Management Services

Ill health is not an easy way out

• Re your story on ill health retirement in the public sector (Personnel Today, 18 July). The suggestion that it is easy for staff in local government to get retirement on ill health grounds is a nonsense. A process using stiff (and audited) criteria for assessment of all cases together with the judgement of an independent occupational physician hardly lends itself to being a charter for the incompetent.

So what do we do with staff who become too ill to carry on in their job? I should think a few of my colleagues uttered a hollow laugh at the idea that we could conjure up enough jobs that carry what the Government euphemistically called “lighter duties” for everyone with a debilitating illness.

The answers are more complicated than Whitehall would have the public believe. As Jackie Wiltshire, head of personnel at Wokingham District Council, said, we use modern HR approaches of preventing illness and redeployment policies when this fails. As the sharp drop in ill health retirements during the 1990s suggests, this is a technique that is working.

Dilys Wynn

Head of human resources

Worcestershire County Council

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