‘Look after staff or unions will do it for you’ warning

A leading US lawyer specialising in union relations has warned UK employers to look after their staff – or be forced to do so by unions.

Speaking at a seminar organised by legal firm Eversheds, Alan Lips said that under new legislation, organisations that failed to “manage properly” would find their staff demanding union representation.

The warning comes as staff are being given new rights to be represented by unions under the Government’s Employment Relations Act.

Lips told an audience of HR professionals that union avoidance would be more difficult in the UK than in the US.

To avoid demands for union recognition from staff, he said, employers must focus on the calibre of managers. He said, “Choose good managers. Just one bad supervisor or manager creates risk of unionisation.

“Treat employees as team-mates and take good care of them. Communicate.”

Lips said employers should audit policies and practices to ensure they are fair and necessary. Be alert for problems. Seek them out. Then fix the identified problems.

“Redirect or discharge the poor manager who is abusing workers before the union is sought to protect the workers. Do not exploit workers. In short, demonstrate that the employer is managing properly and a union could not improve the working life of the employees.”

Eversheds partner Martin Warrant said he has spent much of the past three years talking to US companies about their experience of dealing with unions.

He said tackling employee grievances was essential if organisations wished to remain with a single union presence or union free.

He said, “All the evidence shows that poor and ineffective supervision leads to union membership rising and the reverse is true. Employees rightly expect to be treated as individuals and to feel they can make their concerns known.

“Non-unionised organisations should consider an employee comment structure that fits their business as well as ad hoc employee/manager one-to-one meetings.”

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