Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Biting the Hand that Feeds


I am bringing to you a story first posted by the blog union renewal (http://unionrenewal.blogspot.com/). Please visit this site and sign-up for e-mail alerts as it regularly posts excellent news items and the people behind it are based at the FNV the largest union in the Netherlands (http://www.fnvbondgenoten.nl/fnvbondgenoten/english/).

The story refers to a new arrangement at the Dutch-based banking giant ING of offering to pay the union subscriptions of new employees.

The Christian trade union federation CNV which organises within ING has recorded significant membership growth whilst the head of labour relations for the firm has backed the initiative by saying that at ING 'we highly value consultation with unions'.

As in the world of industrial relations however, nothing is straightforward and ING have admitted that the reason behind their generous offer is to force the CNV to have a greater degree of representation amongst graduate and younger staff.

Wow! I wish UK employers would help the movement grow in such an enlightened and philanthropic manner.

At the same time however, can the CNV claim a proper degree of impartiality and indepedence from the employer?

The CNV claims that it has no problem 'biting the hand that feeds'.

What do you think?




shop said...

Ian - this can't be right.

Why would an employer do this even if they did want to improve relations with the union and get more younger workers and graduate employees involved in dialogue?

I can't agree that the situation of the union here isn't compromised here. What happens if the employer threatens the withdrawal of the payment and the union is reliant on the 'free' money?

What if the employer, in undermining the position of the union, attempts to create a direct relation with the younger workers and graduates on the basis of the favourable treatment it wants to afford to them?

I am afraid that I am unreconstructed, old labour, class warrior and something here is not right.

A bond between a worker and their union grows from the subscription and it makes the union more accountable - that is the right and proper nature of the relationship. What's happening in Holland is a travesty.

I wonder what would happen if an employer offered this in the UK?


Paul said...


UNITE and Accord have an agreement with HBOS (not sure of status of this in the current climate), which meant that the employer effectively subsidised union contributions for some new starters for their first 6 months. As far as I know HBOS was the only FTSE 100 company to have an explict commitment to supporting the unions to increase membership density above 70% (you can read more here: http://www.partnership-institute.co.uk/pdf/HBOS-Today-Union-April-2008.pdf)

There are some potential drawbacks to this approach - particularly if the employer uses the threat of withdrawal to put pressure on the union, but the reality is that many employers hold a similar weapon in their hands in the form of traditional check off arrangements. Even the best organised union would take a membership hit if a large employer pulled check-off.

I think that these sorts of strategies have their place alongside, rather than in place of, solid 'bread and butter' union organising. Certainly as far as I am aware both UNITE and Accord were still actively getting out into workplaces, convinving people of the need to sign up to and get involved in the union.

Ian Manborde said...

Hi Paul,

Many thanks for the contribution to the discussion on this.

There was a clarifying point made on the Union Renewal blog that similar arrangements to those you mentioned UNITE, ACCORD and HBOS did exist within the banking sector in the Netherlands.

It's interestingthat these developments appear within the finance sector.

I am glad to hear though that the HBOS agreement hasn't hindered in any way the capacity for UNITE and ACCORD to increase levels of membership in a sector that is appearing to dwindle almost daily with the announcement of job cuts.

Thanks again


Sunny said...


I am interested in what Paul has said and am wondering why this is an issue within the finance sector.

Is this beacuse the employers can afford to pay, or that they really want partnership or as you and Paul state which is that the employer has a 'lever' over the unions.

Do you know if anywhere in the law around union recognition rights, or anything related, where it states that the subs must come from individual members, and whether this payment from the employer obstructs this in some way.

I have asked our HR manager to look at your blog and the original article as I am going to suggest (just as a laugh as there is no chance of getting them to go down this road) that they consider paying our subs.

Trade union activity seems to be more interesting in Europe and across the world than in the UK - are we doing something wrong?



Alan said...


I am all for the employer paying subs.

Our lot would want a say in union business as a result though.

I can also see them asking for repayment of subs where a member was successful in a case against them - on the basis that they in someway helped to fund the case against them.

It's that illogicality that tends to suggest that employers don't get too involved in union affairs.

Interesting development though and if it helps grow/sustain the movement we should at least discuss the pros and cons.

Hopefully will see you on the TUC event in December that we talked about.



Jenni said...

Hello Ian,

Sorry I haven't put in a contribution recently - been up to my neck in job evaluation panels!

Can't see the NHS going down this line - what would the total subs bill be for over 1 million people and a large number of those paying their subs as professional fees to bodies like the BMA?

Although the idea of increasing the number of younger members/activists is a good one I think it can only cause confusion at the recruitment stage to have to explain that the union is a real, independent voice and not under the employer's thumb only to tell the new recruit that subs are paid for by the employer!

Stick to the easy life I say.