Occasionally I hear old rhetoric aimed against the Trade Unions. In the private sector that is a battle fought and decided years ago. There is no need for friends of management to demand tougher laws or to pursue an anti Union vendetta.
Trade Unions can be a good way for some employees to organise their representation to management. They work best where there are large groups of employees doing the same or similar work with a graded pay structure. Modern well informed Trade Unions are not a soft touch, nor are they business wreckers. They recognise the need for managers to manage, and recognise the need to generate revenues and profits before discussing how to share them out. They see the need to raise quality and efficiency if British companies are to survive and compete successfully in a very competitive world. There are fewer jobs from loss making or near bankrupt companies.
For their part, sensible modern managements keep their workforces well informed, argue the case for any change, and provide career progression and incentive for their staff. Great companies are as conscious of their image and achievement as a good employer as they are conscious of their brand or product image for their customers. They regard workplace safety, flexible working patterns, decent pay and conditions and team operation as the basics in creating and developing a good positive workplace atmosphere. The business has to be customer focused, but to be so it also needs to treat its employees with respect and give them sufficient scope to use their skills and improve their performance.
Recently we have seen two possible strikes averted. BA’s new CEO has done a deal with the new leadership of the Union which should put behind the company the difficult labour relations that have disrupted it over the past year or so. On the tube, a series of strikes was averted by talking and finding a solution to the underlying dispute. Passengers, British business and the employees should be the winners from this.
The public sector remains more prone today to labour disputes and Union difficulties than the private sector. It is both more heavily unionised, and has more trouble in generating good positive employee relations. The Coalition government needs to have a strategy to lift the public sector’s achievement as an employer, whilst pushing through agreed changes to working practises that boost quality and output for any given level of resource put in. To do this the more militant employees where they exist need to know that the government employer is no soft touch, whilst the sensible majorities need to know that the government wants to improve the public sector’s performance as an employer and is prepared to listen to good ideas.
I have found when I have been resposnbile for workforces that most employees like a strong and positive lead from the top management, as long as it is explained, as long as they have a chance to influence it, and it is fair in its demands. In the public sector one of the first tasks is to improve morale so that absence rates fall. If a department has a high rate of absence compared to the average private sector experience it should be a warning to its managers that there is need to lift standards and motivate staff more.