Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Strikes and Disputes

The Sunday Times reported the other day that new laws come into force on 1 March 2017 which will set a new 50% turnout in union ballots before strikes will be deemed legal. 

Apparently, the Government expects the changes to save 200,000 working days a year lost to strikes although, I have to say, I don't think this represents the best way forward.

Instead I would introduce some form of binding arbitration which would require both parties to accept the judgment of an independent referee, as happens in Employment Tribunals or in the case of pensions disputes.

Strikes still have their place, of course, and as I've said many times in relation to equal pay  the problem was that the unions in Scotland never called a single strike - nor did they even bother to organise a national campaign in support of equal pay for low paid council workers.

A fact that kinda speaks for itself, if you ask me.



New rules on voting will curb strikes

By James Lyons - The Sunday Times
From March 1, unions will be unable to call a strike unless at least half of eligible members vote - ALAMY

Curbs on “undemocratic” strike action will save almost 200,000 working days a year, according to government figures.

The London Underground stoppage last week would not have gone ahead if the law, which will take effect on March 1, had been in force. Under the changes unions will be unable to call a strike unless at least half of eligible members vote.

For vital public services, such as trains and the Tube, unions will need at least 40% of those entitled to cast a ballot to vote for action.

The RMT transport union failed to get half of drivers on the Piccadilly line, or station staff they represent, to take part in the ballots for action on the Underground. The TSSA union also failed to get half of its station staff to vote.


Pendulum Arbitration (13/12/16)

Here's a post from the blog site archive which is particularly topical in light of the latest strike on the Southern rail network which will disrupt services for two days.

I wonder which side would win the argument if this dispute were to be referred to pendulum arbitration?   

The dispute appears to be about whether a driver should open and close the train doors which, at face value anyway, seems a petty issue on which to cause so much disruption to people's lives.  

If you ask me, pendulum arbitration would be a practical solution for the rail network and for other essential public services.


Pendulum Arbitration (5 November 2013)

In the wake of the Grangemouth dispute which ended so disastrously for Unite and the credibility of the trade unions more generally - lots of people have been coming up with suggestions for improving industrial relations such as having workers on the boards of big companies - worker/directors if you like.

Now I've long been in favour of having workers represented on the board which is a feature of industrial relations in other countries, Germany for example, but like lots of good ideas it's not a miracle cure - because disputes like the one that erupted in Grangemouth are unlikely to be resolved at a board meeting.

A much more practical thing to consider would be the widespread use of 'pendulum arbitration' which involves an independent referee (arbitrator) making a decision that comes down in favour of one side or the other - i.e. in favour of either the employer or the trade union.

Employers and trade are often unwilling to use arbitration, especially if they think the stakes are too high, but after the near closure of the giant Grangemouth plant - maybe it is an idea whose time has finally come.

For the life of me, I cannot see any arbitrator siding with Unite over their claims of unfair treatment towards the local union convener, Stephen Deans - because all the employer was doing was investigating allegations that Deans was spending a good deal of his time on Labour Party business - which was clearly wrong.

Yet instead of Unite and Deans putting their hands up - the union called a strike and were willing too play fast and loose with thousands of jobs.  

Fair Dinkum, Cobbers (31 October 2011)

Qantas flights resume after industrial dispute
'Fair dinkum, cobber' - is an Australian saying which no one has ever directed towards me - but means 'fair play to you, mate' - as far as I know.

And that seems to be an apt phrase top use in connection with the Qantas dispute - which seems to have ended - vitually overnight. 

Qantas had grounded all of its flights in an increasingly biiter dispute with its trade unions - whom the company accused of making unreasonable demands.

But instead of dragging things out for months on end - the issues involved were put to an independent arbitration panel - which seems to have ruled in the company's favour and ordered everyone back to work.

Now I don't know much about the independent tribunal involved - but it does seem to have done the trick - by coming down largely in favour of one side or the other - instead of splitting hairs.

If that's what has happened it's called pendulum arbitration - which means just that - choosing between different and sometimes highly polarised arguments.

The advantage being that it encourages both sides in an industrial dispute to behave reasonably - not to exaggerate things.

Otherwise if the dispute is referred to arbitration - then the party that has been rowing its boat out too far is likely to lose.

In the UK we have ACAS - the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service - but this quango does not enjoy the best of reputations and lacks real teeth.

Everyone involved in a industrial dispute in the UK has to agree to ACAS becoming involved - and it has no history of moving quickly to bring in decisive judgments - as the long-running BA dispute being the perfect example.

So maybe our Aussie friends have come up with a good idea - Fair Work Australia is the name of the independent tribunal - which has brought the Qantas dispute to a swift end.

Fair dinkum, cobbers.