Amongst other things that the next government will have to fix including our broken economy, damaged civil liberties, lack of housing, poor public transport, spiralling public debt yadda yadda… one of the priorities must be to reform labour laws, the 21st century economy and the unions are at odds, the unions with powers given back to them under new labour’s reign have become increasingly blasé about what they stand for, some militant unions have side stepped the democracy of the vote for staged votes designed to promote dangerous stand-off’s between the establishment, private industry and themselves in a way that almost always guarantees their success.
The last ten years have seen unions, pushing political agendas, demanding ludicrous increases and forcing un-competitive working conditions on organisations both public and private: and they’ve done this by blatantly ignoring their members, their own regulations and, in some cases, the law. Of course this doesn’t apply to every union, many are thoroughly respectable organisations which are dedicated to protecting the rights of their members and the wider working world, but it cannot be denied that many of our essential services are not represented by democratic union bodies, and this is damaging employee relationships, damaging business, and damaging the wider economy of the UK.
It would seem nowadays that arbitration, something that should be brought in at the earliest possibility when agreement cannot be amicably reached, is now a last resort rather than an early fire break, and action and grievances are most often brought to the table at times when the potential, and almost always inevitable, action will be most crippling; the unions of course say that this is coincidence, and a failure of their respective opponents, but whether it be bank holiday weekends, new years eve, christmas, or the school holidays, the result is always the same, the same unions time and time again up the ante and force positions on services both public and private where the only option left is to surrender to outlandish demands or suffer the public’s wrath for the ensuing chaos that strike action causes.
Some people advocate banning unions’ altogether, I don’t: I can’t see how banning a work force from it’s democratic voice is compatible with social conservatism, but I do believe that reform of employment and union law is key in the coming parliament so as to redress the balance of power that has been so damaged by the incumbent bankrupt union supported Labour party so going into the second decade of this century the pendulum swings back in favour of the needs of the many rather than to militant niche groups. To this end I’m advocating that the next government form a union’s charter, a set of play-fair rules that democratises the union process and that prevents the all to familiar ‘end game’ stand-off’s that have become so familiar at any time of the year when a union realises they can cause maximum damage with minimum effort for maximum reward.
Some ideas for a unions charter might include:
1) Arbitration being moved to immediately once agreement between union and company cannot be reached without notice of strike action being made public by either party, this removes the public relations aspect of many disputes that causes fear of disruption with the wider public to further negotiations or strengthen the position of either party.
2) Arbitration should have a time limit applied to it before strike action can be considered, this should be at least 2 working weeks of face to face negotiations, not as is often the case today unions storming in and out of arbitration whenever they feel their point of view isn’t being listened to.
3) Strike action that specifically sets out to cause maximum damage to the organisation (whether that be through maximising financial loss, inability to function or inconvenience to the customer or general public) should be banned. The withdrawal of labour should be used as a negotiation tool, not as a weapon.
4) Any arbiter should be appointed by the organisation and the union, that arbiter will be considered entirely independent. The arbiter should be given a legal right to decide to postpone arbitration for a maximum of 6 weeks. This has many benefits, it acts as a cooling-off period to avoid pressure cooker negotiations, it also would allow the arbiter to independently assess if any potential strike action is being specifically planned to cause specific damage and if so postpone arbitration and rule out strike action that would break the terms of clause three.
5) If, and only after initial arbitration has failed should strike action be proposed to the union members and announced to the general public.
6) It should be a requirement that, should strike action be proposed, unions ballet all members, not just selective groups for strike action. Any vote should return at least half of the papers sent out to be considered valid and of that return a proposal to withdraw labour should only be passed if over half of the returned papers advocate such action.
7) Any vote should be considered a legally binding proposal from the membership to the union executive, and it should be the case that the executive hold no power to authorise legal strike action without a defined member vote.
8) Remove any options for unions calling for industrial action in support of other unions.
9) Employers, whether it be public or private should have the rights to instantly dismiss without compensation any employee that breaks with these terms.
As we enter what appears to be a deep recession with a looming bombshell of pensions to pay for in future generations, the ability for unions and public and private organisations to effectively and fairly communicate and negotiate is becoming an issue that needs to be resolved – and I can’t help but feel that an equalisation of power between union and organisation, not to mention these two sparing partners and the wider public, is much needed.