Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Another day, another quiet Union victory

There's a famous employer on "my patch", and Unite is the recognised union for the workers at this factory.

About five months ago I got chatting to one of the drivers.  They don't work directly for the factory employer anymore, and they told me they don't recall ever getting a pay rise.  There was no union recognition.

I signed up all seven drivers into Unite. They elected a steward. I met the "HR business partner" and explained that as there was 100% Unite membership, we would like recognition. He laughed.

I persisted, and got a letter from this employer telling me they "preferred to solve problems directly with our employees rather than via a union". Privately, they told me that they wouldn't award Unite recognition as they didn't have to.

The UK's union recognition laws, introduced in 1999, do not apply to bargaining unit's of nineteen workers or less.

So some people at the same factory were being allowed union recognition - others not.  You would think we could bring everybody at the factory together for this shared issue ( and you could in virtually any other democracy ) - but our laws call this "secondary action" and we are not allowed to do this.  Our restrictive laws insist that in this instance, we could only ballot our drivers employed by the smaller employer.  This despite the fact that the main factory employer clearly calls all the shots, and ultimately still pays the drivers wages! This is wrong and is an example of what we mean by "anti-union laws".

This left me with two options.  I took the gentle option first....

....I drafted a letter of grievance and all the drivers signed it.  The employer, in it's wisdom, decided not to hear the grievance.

This took me to my final option.  You don't need union recognition to have a trade dispute - for a trade dispute, a union only needs members.  I gave this employer notice of our intention to ballot our seven drivers for strike action in support of union recognition.

Five months on, there is now a signed recognition agreement.  Our steward - now recognised in his role, will be attending a Unite Stage 1 Reps course next week - with paid release from work.   In March, the first annual pay negotiations will take place.  A pay settlement date of 1st April has been agreed and written into the agreement.

There was no strike.The threat of publicity won Unite it's demands. And that's why I've mentioned no names here.

And this is something many people will never have thought about - that Unions use the media when things are going badly - far, far more often than when things are going well.

It depresses me to hear people say "Unions never win anymore" when the plain truth is that Unions have victories all the time. Resolving difficult situations quietly is often the best way to achieve results....

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