Trade unions paved the way for progressive HR practice

Stephen Overell (Off message, Personnel Today, 23 August) asks why the ‘apolitical, unobtrusive, doing-OK bulk’ of workers should join a union. And Tim Wells (Letters, 6 September) challenges a union official to explain why he should persuade his sons to join the union ‘movement’. I’m happy to argue the case…

In 2005, Nationwide building society was rated as the ‘best big company to work for’ by the Sunday Times. Why? Because it has a comprehensive range of employment terms and conditions and a culture that has a foundation based on fairness and equality. How has it developed this approach? In partnership with the staff union; a relationship of more than 30 years’ standing, in which the union continually challenges the business to respect and value its people.

Nationwide is a good employer, but the union receives calls every day from members facing problems at work. We help to resolve many of these issues, ensuring that people are treated fairly and restoring relationships for the benefit of the people involved and the business. Nationwide’s personnel department acknowledges that the union’s involvement in individual cases makes them easier to manage and also leads to better outcomes.

There is one statistic that may be of particular interest to Wells: the employees who are most likely to face performance and capability issues are young men – so we really can help people like his sons.

Overell argues that the ‘unheralded revolution’ of British working life is a product of the spread of HR management and employment law. But he should remember that the trade union movement played a significant role in shaping and influencing the direction of HR practices, lobbying for the introduction and enhancement of employment law, and driving individual employers to go beyond merely implementing the basic legal requirements, creating a virtuous circle for future progress. Perhaps his instinct to carry a union card is right after all.

Tim Poil
General secretary
Nationwide Group Staff Union

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