I posted recently about helping to secure a pay rise of 16.9%. I've been asked how it happened. There was no strike or strike threat....
The site was part of a national distribution company. So although there was "site bargaining" for pay and conditions, the reality is that the employer nationally tries to keep control of bargaining at all sites. To deliver this, large employers with this set up tend to set a limit that pay can increase by. In other words, site management pretend they have a free hand to negotiate, but they will have been told something like "no more than 1.8% this year".
In this case, the employer nationally had set the limit at 2%.
Having been told not to exceed 2%, there was little we were capable of doing that was likely to have moved local management from it's entrenched position.
But being creative can be very effective. Sometimes you have to carefully nurture an employers ego...
After a huge amount of professional work by Unite, site management became persuaded that yes, a pay rise of over 15% would be the minimum required to stop drivers leaving. They were hugely frustrated they were unable to go beyond 2%.
I made a suggestion:
How about Unite agree to the 2%, and as soon as that is voted on and paid, you then announce a "market rate uplift review", which will be around 15%.
It worked. Naturally, they had to run it past the board. The board's ego were satisfied that our approach did not impact upon the 2% cap that they had set. I think it helped that we suggested that as the "market rate uplift review" would take place outside of pay negotiations, it would not set a precedent for pay negs at any other site.
It was quite a job getting members to agree to just 2% given that expectations were far higher. With some reluctance, the membership took a leap of faith and voted YES. In turn, our negotiating team took a leap of faith and decided to trust management. After all, a nod and a wink that an extra 14.9% is coming is worth a punt....
All came good. Within eight weeks of putting the 2% to our members, pay was increased by a further 14.9%, resulting in a total uplift of 16.9%.
To my astonishment, one member complained bitterly,"..you've done f*** all for bank holiday pay Rick." This rendered me speechless, something that rarely happens! I will take that conversation with me to my grave. It's fair to say that the work of a TU official is not always welcomed with a warm thank-you !!
Getting such a great outcome in one negotiation isn't something I can help to pull off very often. That said, creativity in getting around board imposed pay ceilings is becoming increasingly common in private sector collective bargaining.
In a Burton factory in 2015, for similar reasons the local employer was not allowed to go beyond 1.4%. Unite members had drawn a line in the sand and would not accept anything below 2%. It was a tricky situation and I was asked to get involved as part of the formal disputes procedure. In my world, this is called a "FTA" - a Failure To Agree. This is the beginning of a process that has a number of stages, but can result in an official industrial action ballot.
The local management had no control over pay rates (unless we count the annual attempt they make to offer less than the ceiling they have been given.). I asked if the management had control over other site budgets...
Our claim was for 2.2%. To settle this, the management agreed that every worker could become a trained First Aider. Each worker would be paid £250 per year for this, although it wouldn't be compulsory.
As if by magic, this meant that for most members the overall value of the pay offer was now worth 2.2%. We recommended the offer and members overwhelmingly accepted. What really pleased me is that I genuinely believe that the factory will become safer as a consequence of the collective bargaining. Result!
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