Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Archive for the ‘Trade union issues’ Category

BA and the online newspaper ethos

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One of the more interesting features of the newspaper industry is its long-standing use as a bulletin board: from quirky, ‘disgusted of Tonbridge Wells’-type letters to letters to The Thunderer and to other newspaper editors setting the world to rights or getting something on record, whether from the establishment, interested individuals and opinion formers. Letters usually had the resonance of importance and their publication in print frequently added weight to the arguments expressed, not least to the usual readerships of the newspapers concerned, whose leanings and approaches are well-known. Given this, their role in changing views might have been pretty limited – preaching to the converted is never going to change the world – but at least they had a role in commencing debate at some level. And you could open your favourite newspaper knowing that it wasn’t going to turn you a nasty shade of apopletic red.

Which is why I turned to yesterday’s letter to the Guardian by 95 leading academics criticising the behaviour of British Airways in its dispute with Unite with some interest. At the last count, there were 495 comments on the story and, at the (early) point at which I stopped reading them, a large percentage of people were using the piece to hang anti-Unite, frequently anti-trade union views, regardless of the debate which the academics had sought to start about BA’s actions.

Clearly, not so many typical readers of The Guardian among them. The question is, I guess, why – why would you hang around on a newspaper site, to the leanings of which you are not instinctively sympathetic, just to have a go? Well, because you can, probably: Web 2.0, where your opinions are not only desired but an integral part of the experience, has some things to answer for. Dialling The Times today re-directs you to a page (no doubt in the short-term) inviting you not just to read the thing but to ‘listen to it, watch it, shape it, be part of it‘, as part of its charging-based re-vamp, but the outcome in practice is frequently the facilitation of opportunities for wind-up merchants and trolls of all types.

I really don’t want to open the online version of The Guardian and be assaulted by a range of closed-minded views straight from the pages of the Daily Mail. If I want that, I’ll open the Mail. I’m as happy to engage in debate as the person stood next to me – and I’m not frightened of views opposed to mine. But what I do want is the sensible and rational, not the mindless. And I want it focused, not random. And I want debate, not diatribes. OK, no-one’s forcing me to read this stuff (and indeed I didn’t get very far with it, thus – at some level – wasting the time of all those whose views I didn’t trouble myself with, natch) but Web 2.0 does have the power to extend debate and that power is dissipated when debates are dominated by those whose purpose is not to engage but to flame. And that’s evidently a lost opportunity.

The answer – more active moderation, perhaps. That might be asking a lot for popular newspaper sites but, at the same time, if the benefits of Web 2.0 are to be realised, perhaps that lies in fewer articles and better moderation. A sort of approach based on ‘never mind the width, feel the quality’. It has to be possible. Alternatively, perhaps one of the benefits of charging for online access is not just support for journalistic quality, as these pages have argued before, but also a re-focusing of the debate engendered within such sites by making them less open to passing trolls.

As regards the academics’ letter: they’ve got more than a point about some of the actions of BA in this dispute and, from the perspective of this particular academic manqué, I like the phrasing of their approach around the issue of the ‘representation gap in UK employment relations’. Such a gap clearly does exist in all too many workplaces up and down the country. From the point of view of this debate, Keith Ewing has taken this on in today’s The Guardian in arguing that there is a human right to engage in strike action. The current laws of this country do not provide a right to strike, but industrial action is never undertaken lightly and remains a legitimate weapon to use against an intransigent employer. The increasingly hardline, right-wing approach to the taking of industrial action over the last twenty years is one that continues to divide this country from our European neighbours and the quality of our democracy is all the poorer for it.


Written by Calvin

26/03/2010 at 5:02 pm

‘Radical change’ called for in France Telecom

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An interim report commissioned by France Telecom is reported to have said that the company has only ‘a few weeks’ to put new HR practices in place following the recent spate of suicides in the company. The report advises the new management team at the company, which took place at the start of March, of the need to ‘take charge and encourage radical change’ at the company if it is to recover its former status.

The report, which does not yet appear to have been leaked in full but which has been confirmed as authentic, has been seen by French and international newspapers. It has been commissioned from an organisation called Technologia whose motto is ‘Health and safety at the heart of decision-making’. In reaching an agreement with most of its trade unions last November, now ratified, France Telecom has already sought to put an end to some of the practices which had been believed to have led to the rise in the number of suicides, which now number 43 since January 2008 and including at least eight since the start of 2010. Nevertheless, the Technologia report, based on a series of 500 interviews with France Telecom employees, makes a series of 107 recommendations to address the crisis, calling in particular on the company to:

Implement a moratorium on reorganizations, closely monitor psychosocial risk factors and create an internal network of mediators to make the personnel department more accessible

– and all on the basis that ‘actions [need to] accompany all the talk‘. The report also calls on the company to institute a network of mediators, 30% external and 70% from inside France Telecom, whose role would be to listen to employees in difficulty and to play a ‘real role of arbitration’, and to undertake mobility moves only where the usefulness of such a move had been tested to the limits and where the employee concerned was provided with a supporting mentor.

The Technologia report is now being discussed with the unions representing France Telecom employees.

Further, it also emerged at the weekend that the Labour Inspectorate has lodged with the Paris prosecutor’s office an 82-page report condemning practices at the company as bullying behaviour likely to endanger the lives of others in the workplace, and which it believed to have stemmed from decisions taken at the highest level of the group.

Both the Technologia report and the Labour Inspectorate one are clearly critical of the approach of the company’s senior management and provide the trade unions with significant additional power in their continuing battle with France Telecom over its reorganisation. Technologia’s page on psycho-social hazards speaks of its role in terms of ‘the resumption of dialogue and building a relationship of trust between the social partners’; that’s likely to be a mighty hard row to hoe in France Telecom, but an approach rooted in the dignity of labour, and which actively promotes the needs of employees, not least in a mental health setting, in corporate restructuring situations has a lot to commend itself.

Written by Calvin

15/03/2010 at 12:08 pm

Weblink: Civilians in Defence

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Jonathan Green, Research Officer for Prospect, has published an interesting report of a Prospect seminar held earlier this week which provided a platform for participants to raise concerns about the impact of future spending cuts on the defence industry directly with the government. Given events in and around the Commons this week, the seminar was particularly timely.

You can read Jonathan’s report, written as a post for The Science Vote, the blog of the Campaign for Science And Engineering in the UK, here.

Written by Calvin

12/03/2010 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Politics, Trade union issues

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Prospect statement on Vodafone job cuts

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Prospect has reacted angrily to yesterday’s announcement of job cuts in Vodafone [registration required; limited viewing time; alternative source].

Steve Thomas, Prospect’s National Officer for Vodafone, has contacted the company to express serious concerns over the cuts themselves as well as the complete lack of consultation, Prospect having learned of the cuts via the media. We are also disturbed about reports that individuals are being asked to leave the business without notice.

You can read the full statement here.

Vodafone needs to learn that, whatever co-operation Prospect members are prepared to provide over resourcing decisions, the quid pro quo for that is decent treatment and respect for the contribution they have made during their lives in the company. Where that doesn’t occur, the price of that amongst those left behind is lower morale, lower productivity and lesser co-operation.

Written by Calvin

10/03/2010 at 11:30 am

Colombia: lobbying continues against the proposed FTA

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The TUC has written to Baroness Ashton, the EU’s new High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, calling on her to abandon talks on a free trade agreement with Colombia on the grounds of the country’s appalling human rights record, not least with regard to the continued killings of trade unionists.

A free trade agreement with the EU would be a propaganda coup for the Colombian government and would essentially reward it in the trade and international arenas, while acting as an endorsement of its continued inaction on its human rights record. Colombian civil society and trade union organisations have called for a rejection of any attempt to reach such an agreement; the US government has rejected doing so and the EU should suspend its own negotiations. Worryingly, as the TUC’s toughly-worded letter points out, the promised engagement with the Colombian government on its domestic record via the existing Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+) procedures appears not to have happened.

Connect is continuing its own lobbying activities, in line with its support for the Justice for Colombia campaign on the proposed agreement and in support of a special meeting on the issue taking place at the European Parliament on 9 December.

The TUC was also a signatory to the letter to the Editor of The Guardian last week which called for tougher actions against June’s coup in Honduras and asking governments not to recognise the fake elections which took place the previous Sunday.

As tough as conditions are at home for trade unionists, they are never as worse as they are for trade unionists in Latin America. Internationalism has the power both to bring greater unity to trade unions worldwide and also increases the number of reasons to belong to a trade union: solidarity needs to be more than just a watchword.

Written by Calvin

01/12/2009 at 1:00 am

France Telecom agreement on staff mobility?

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La Tribune, France’s business newspaper, has reported that France Telecom has signed an agreement on Thursday last week with four trade unions on its package of measures to deal with the work mobility pressures that have led to a spate of suicides amongst managerial grades in the company.

Trade union websites (e.g. CFTD, CGT and CFE-CGC) are as yet silent on the agreement and at least one – Federation Sud – has apparently refused to sign the agreement [registration required; limited viewing time] on the grounds that it doesn’t go far enough to restore employee confidence.

The report in La Tribune states that the agreement will establish a system of part-time working, without loss, for those three years from retirement including pay at up to 80% of the previous level. Some 14,000 people are eligible for the measure and, on the basis of an assumed take-up by 11,000 workers, will cost c. €700m (not the €1bn earlier reported). Measures also envisaged under the agreement include the setting up of career orientation interviews for employees aged 45 and over and guaranteeing access to training for employees in the same age group. On this morning’s Radio Classique, Stephane Richard, no. 2 at the company, is reported to have confirmed that next year, albeit without definitely ending the practice of mobility, it would not have the mobility scheme that has previously existed; that there would be no forced moves for anyone within three years of retirement; and that mobility would in the future be voluntary. In short: ‘C’est bien un nouveau France Télécom que nous voulons’ (‘It’s a new FT that we’re looking for’).

Looks like the close of a chapter which the French unions and workers in solidarity have done well to pursue. If indeed an agreement has been signed, it’s to be hoped that this ends the tragic spate of suicides in France Telecom which have occurred over the past twenty months.

Written by Calvin

30/11/2009 at 2:23 pm

Vodafone seeks to close DB scheme to future service

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Vodafone announced yesterday that it is looking at closing its final salary pension scheme to future accruals from April 2010.

Connect is disappointed that Vodafone has made this decision, which will inevitably lead to members having to contribute more for and receive less in their pension. Nevertheless, the company has signalled its early intention to receive representations from the union on behalf of our members and we will be making strong representations to it.

We do welcome the company’s commitment to improve the standard of the defined contribution scheme.  It is our aim that the company will make improvements to this scheme sufficient to match the benefits that those who currently pay into the final salary scheme would have expected to receive. We will be putting constructive, detailed alternative proposals to the company to this effect as we strive to get the best possible deal for members. We have a wealth of experience of negotiating successfully with employers to deliver solutions in this respect.

Where Connect is recognised, our experience shows that we can have a positive, beneficial influence on company decisions of this type. The message is also clear that there is no better time to be in the union so, if you’re not, join us!

Connect will be holding a meeting for old and new members in Vodafone this coming Thursday.

Written by Calvin

25/11/2009 at 3:03 pm