Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Protecting Jobs from 'Flexibility'


I have today submitted, with my colleague Judith Jackson at the GFTU, a proposal to fund a multilateral European project that seeks to encourage trade unions and employers to increase their use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (ADR) as a measure to, amongst other elements, safeguard jobs in the context of the global economic downturn.

For those interested in ADR I would strongly encourage you to review the definitive range of resources available at the wed-sites of the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Working Lives (Eurofound). You can reach both (as well as the sites monitoring European trends on workplace restructuring and employment conditions) at: www.eurofound.europa.eu/

In preparing the submission, and scanning the European industrial relations horizon, its clear that we are in the midst of intense reform of employment and labour market practices that indicate a critical impact on the functioning of trade unionism on all strategic fronts.

In the UK in particular the zeal to dismantle workplace and employment safeguards provides a useful snapshot of wider European policy (not least in the guise of 'flexicurity). Whilst it is clear that trade unions seek to safeguard employment, as in the successful outcome of the BAA talks at ACAS this week, the degree to which bodies like the CBI and IoD seek dislodge employment security, under the guise of employer flexibility, should start to ring alarm bells for workers in all sectors and most workplaces.

In one of many similar demands the CBI is demanding that industrial action ballots and redundancy notification periods are drastically changed in such a way that workers' attempts to respond via industrial action to potentially job losses is reduced to such a degree that it challenges basic notions of social justice: http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/eiro/2010/07/articles/uk1007039i.htm

Clearly the coalition government favours these clamours, not least as a way to bulldozer through mass job loss in the public sector with little real threat of industrial action as an impediment to their neo-liberal agenda.

With even bodies like the CIPD however suggesting that too rapid a scale of reform increasing the likelihood of workplace unrest and industrial action, it is no surprise then that ADR is seen as a way to address European workplace restructuring that is taking place as a direct result of the global economic downturn. The worry however, in the context of the UK at least, is that models of ADR from across the EU rest on relatively neutral state inteference in the employment relationship - not so in the UK.

So, as employer's organisations continue to demand legal reforms that diminish the workplace bargaining status of trade unions on what practical basis can trade unions respond - particularly if the status and legitimacy of trade unionism finds no favour with the current government?

I welcome your contributions.



Muhammed said...


I'm not sure if I completely understand your point, as you seem to be advocating a move away from industrial action to resolve workplace disputes?

Please clarify this as in the past you have generally stressed the relevance of industrial action as a way to apply ultimate pressure on employers and to get the support of other e.g. the public.

I do hope that you aren't going soft in your old age!

ShopSteward85 said...

I remember coming across something around this at a Unions21 event. Like your last person who wrote to you I am sceptical as I prefer trade unions to consider the option of traditional strike action first and foremost and to only consider mediation when nothing else will work, and not the other way around. I am intersted in how your project will work out as I am sure that trade unions in other countries operate differently.

Please keep me posted.

Pete Eden said...

'Flexicurity' who came up with that?

I bet it wasn't someone faced with the likelihood of poorly paid, precarious work with a bastard for a manager/owner!