November 6, 2015 2.49 pm This story is over 95 months old

Businesses and employees need Trade Union reps

Trade Union Bill: David Harding-Price argues that scrapping Trade Union Stewards would be detrimental to workers.

For most people their contract of employment is “I come to work for you (the employer) and you make sure I am safe at work and pay me”. This is a very simple way of looking at how most of us see our relationship between us and our employers.

Equally most employers see this as the basis of their relationship with their staff. For much of the time this relationship trundles along nicely and the workers “make stuff”, the company makes money and the workers get paid.

However, every once in a while this nice system wobbles when something is not quite right. In a small business or a family run business it is often relatively easy for people to get together and sort out the problem. But in larger companies and the public sector this is not possible.

If your company employs over 250 people, how is the boss going to meet with 250 individual people to sort out a problem? Quiet clearly they are not, so either they impose something on everyone and possibly upset a number of workers, who then become less productive or they meet with a representative of the workers, known as an accredited Trade Union Steward or Safety Representative, and look for a resolution to the matter.

For companies with a large number of employees having an accredited Trade Union Steward is a much more cost effective way of addressing issues rather than having to speak to all of their employees. However, to do this the accredited Trade Union Steward does have to have paid time to do it.

The government are arguing, erroneously, that accredited Trade Union Stewards are a burden on businesses and the public purse, the reverse is true.

Research has shown that the provision of facility time (the time provided by the employer for accredited Trade Union Stewards to work on behalf of the members) improves productivity and for places like the NHS it is crucial for the delivery of high quality, cost effective care.

Accredited Trade Union Safety Reps are skilled in matters of safety and can save companies many thousands of pounds and even appearances in court. The Safety Rep works with local managers to discover problems and find solutions to them. Under the 1974 Act they are an essential part of the workforce.

On November 2, I went to London to meet with my local Conservative Member of Parliament as part of the lobby of parliament by union officials from both the public and private sector.

Sadly my MP did not come and discuss the bill with me and so has not heard the many benefits that accredited Trade Union Stewards and Safety Representatives bring to the workplace.

My concern is that if the government forces this bill through we will see major problems erupting including local lightning strikes because there will be no local steward to speak up for the members and so “hotheads” will be quick to go to strike rather than talk, let us not forget what a previous Tory Prime Minister said when at the White House in June 1954 “It is ‘better to jaw-jaw than to war-war,’”. To do this you need accredited Trade Union Stewards with paid time to work with management.

It’s possible there will be an increase in accidents and incidents because Safety Representatives are no longer active.

A question that the government has to answer, if managers are paid to take part in disciplinary actions to ensure that the employee have a fair hearing why is it that the accredited Trade Union Steward who represents them has to do it in their own time.

In closing, my union the Royal College of Nursing along with other unions invest in their representatives to bring their skills, knowledge and experience to the workplace and to facilitate partnership working. This is a cost effective way of developing practice and managing organisations. Should the bill go through these costs will fall on the employers and in the case of public employers the taxpayer.

David is a retired NHS nurse, but is currently the Royal College of Nursing’s Council Member for the East Midlands and is Honorary Treasurer of the RCN. David was also a Lib Dem MP candidate for Lincoln in the past. He has two grown up children and enjoys photography and swimming in his spare time.