If Trade Unions are the answer I’m not sure what the question is…
Any post which attempts to commence a discussion of Trade Unions is bound to be declared as politically motivated. Please accept that this is a genuine attempt to discuss the issue and that I’m not a closet Tory. Also, please accept that this represents one bloggers view and not the view of the whole blog team.
Over the past 12-18 months I have become increasingly frustrated with the trades union in the Local Government sector. As far as I can tell they have failed in both the representative and the strategic elements of their role and have failed to provide the leadership I believe is required at this time.
I recognise that many of the problems they face may not be their fault and will discuss this in a moment but so far these are my main complaints.
Many councils are currently in the process of carrying out consultation with the trades union over changes to their staffs Ts and Cs. In just one example of this it has led to all staff in Shropshire being dismissed with the intention of re-employing them on new contracts. Many senior managers, being accustomed to working directly with trade unions rather than ‘staff’ have therefore negotiated direct with the trade unions and then announced the outcomes of these negotiations post fact.
This doesn’t work.
The local trade union representatives are rarely representative of the overall views of the employees and in my experience make precious little effort to find out. If the managers are incapable of doing a proper staff consultation then surely the unions should be in the business of doing so. Find out what staff really want and help achieve it.
The Unions also only really represent the staff who pay dues to the particular trade union. Yet, despite this the management don’t have a non-union reach out programme and rely on the unions; sometimes in the knowledge that they will be intractable and therefore allow the management to be on solid ground when they implement unilaterally.
Equally, my experience of the arguments made by unions at the local level is that they are basically ridiculous. Many local authorities are looking to take 10-15% out of their operating budget this year. Yet despite this I’ve lost count of the number of unions who have argued that instead of changing terms and conditions or making staff redundant local authorities should:
1) Just use the councils reserves (showing an Eric Pickles like understanding of local government finance)
2) Stop paying consultants so much (correct but unlikely to fill any hole)
3) Reduce the pay of senior managers (not unreasonable but as above)
4) Root out tax avoidance (ok, but not really an issue for local government)
Its borderline illiterate and deeply frustrating. There are plenty of ways to spread the pain and protect jobs but none of the above are even close.
Oh, and the cost for an individual member to have a stake in this wisdom is getting on for £100 per year. Fine if the union are delivering something for that money; deeply disappointing when the above is all you get.
So what should we do?
I’m no expert but surely the beginning of trade unions was all about groups of staff gathering together to negotiate with the management. This doesn’t require strategies, national bodies or any of the paraphernalia that accompanies a modern trade union. All it requires is groups of staff gathering together to negotiate collectively.
And in return it requires council management to properly consult and engage with their staff body. It is simply not good enough for them to rely on trade unions or just ignore the staff totally. These are tough times and we need to work through these problems together.
Unfortunately, right now the Trade unions don’t seem to be helping the problem.
Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make (especially if you would like to defend the role trade unions are currently playing in local government) please drop us a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org