Will the super-union herald a return to militancy?

The ‘partnership’ between unions and employers can be tentative at the best of times, but should we now dismiss talk of ‘mutual gains’ and return to militancy?

The launch of a new super-union and the stance from the government-funded Future of Work programme (see Think-tank points to militant future for unions) suggests that could be the case.

The threat of more militancy is enough to strike fear into the heart of many an HR professional. While the majority of our readers claim they are concerned or very concerned about the new union, HR will need to take the lead in redefining how these partnerships move forward.

Although the Transport and General Workers’ Union didn’t officially back the wildcat strike at British Airways (BA), the action highlights the power that worker solidarity has over and above any kind of union-employer partnership.

BA has essentially been caught up in another company’s dispute as friends and family of Gate Gourmet’s sacked workers came out in support.

But this has certainly not been one of HR’s success stories. For BA’s disgruntled staff to take such extreme action – and to risk their own jobs in the process – suggests that its people policies can’t be working that well.

But there is a moral to this story that HR can learn. BA might not have been so vulnerable had it given greater thought to how it set up its catering outsourcing contract in the first place. In the race to cut costs through outsourcing its in-flight catering operation, it tripped itself up by deciding to ‘single-source’ and by not having a contingency plan should anything go wrong (see BA pays the price for putting eggs in one basket).

The impact of these illegal strikes is expected to cost up to £40m, which could eclipse the savings BA wanted to make by outsourcing in the first place.

This has to serve as a reminder to other companies contemplating some form of outsourcing to involve HR every step of the way – instead of leaving it to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.

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