Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

IPA declares greater interest in participation

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An interesting viewpoint in the most recent edition of the IPA’s monthly newsletter looks at what the IPA – the Involvement and Participation Association – says is an increasing number of requests from employers for assistance in developing their relations with their trade unions.

Nita Clarke, the author of the piece and the current director of the IPA, as well as a former assistant political secretary to Tony Blair advising on trade unions, says that the current environment provides the opportunity for ‘a serious look whether relations with recognised trade unions are adding as much value as they might’, and that some companies had come to realise that ‘the union relationship could be a positive factor not only in managing difficult change, such as redundancies, but as part of a renewed effort to get the workforce behind the strategic direction of the business or service in order to succeed in the post recessions world.’

Clarke is perhaps right, and adduces the unionised examples of Tesco, BAe and the NHS (though her piece cites only USDAW (the Union for Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) on the union side, in Tesco, somewhat undermining her claims for the partnerships that exist elsewhere). Nevertheless, difficulties with the language used ought not to blind us to the truths that are implied.

In recessionary times, there are clear benefits to ‘valuable, mature relationships based on respect and trust’ in dealing with the problems of change: from the employee side, in ensuring that change is managed fairly and that employees are treated with respect and dignity when difficult decisions have to be taken. But, one might reasonably wonder why it might take a recession for employers to realise this. A cynical view of course might be that this was the most easy way of securing short-term consent, to be later disregarded once more comfortable economic situations emerge and when interesting questions again rise about how surpluses are to be shared.

Ultimately, it must be recognised that relationships are two-way: otherwise, they are abusive. Improving the long-term relationship, and ensuring that the firm (and its employees) are well placed should it survive the recession, is as much about recognising that two-way nature and considering how the collective voice provided by trade unions can be meaningfully appreciated, and valued with integrity, rather than scorned.


Written by Calvin

26/05/2009 at 4:09 pm

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