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Dropping anti-union stance will boost UK productivity, says Unite

Ministers should stop regarding trade unions as ‘the enemy within’ when it comes to partnership working to jump-start the UK’s dismal productivity record, Unite, the country’s largest union, said today (Friday 10 July).

Commenting on today’s government productivity plans, Unite pinpointed chronically low pay as a key factor as to why the UK has the lowest productivity of the G7 leading industrial nations which will not be addressed by the so-called ‘national living wage’ announced in Wednesday’s budget, which it has now been shown will actually cut incomes for the poorest households.

Unite said that the measures announced today by the government fall far short of the comprehensive industrial strategy needed to drag the UK off the bottom of the G7 productivity table – a blueprint for boosting productivity that the union, the biggest in manufacturing, has repeatedly called for.

Boosting the rate to US levels would increase national income by 31 per cent, while just a 0.1 per cent hike would grow the economy by £35bn in 2030.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Raising the productivity of UK manufacturing and commerce is one of the big economic challenges of the next decade. One way that this can be achieved is if ministers stopped attacking trade unions as ‘the enemy within’.

“Instead of regarding the trade unions, which have more than six million members, as a stumbling block for productivity progress, they should see unions as ‘partners in productivity’.

“Unions are a frontline resource which help drive up skills and motivate workers. You only have to look at the globally successful UK industries, such as car manufacturing and aerospace engineering where management and unions have worked closely together to introduce new technology and drive up productivity.

“Chronic pay is a drag on productivity; driving down ‘real’ wages does not help employee motivation and only creates a low-wage, low-skill productivity landscape.

“However, where there are unions in the private sector we raise wages in real terms, which then swiftly translates into greater productivity from the workforce.

“It is ironic that business secretary Sajid Javid made his ‘productivity’ speech to union members today at the Longbridge car plant, so he witnessed for himself that these are the people working so hard to support our economy, and are undeserving of the attacks on their rights and their unions coming from government.

“It is clear that austerity, a corset of financial pain for millions of people, is not an engine for either increased productivity or economic growth – as can be seen by the chancellor’s own missed targets and the news this week that our growth for this year has been revised down.”

Today’s 90-page report, part of the chancellor’s Fixing the Foundations, identifies proposals for higher education, transport, trade, devolution of power to cities and regions, skills, long-term investment, tax, digital and science, but the union is concerned that the action is more piecemeal than the strategic approach building a high skills, high rewards economy requires.

Before the budget Len McCluskey wrote to the chancellor urging him to change gear in order to work with the UK’s unions, as they are already expert in how to boost economically-vital businesses and as such should be regarded as ‘partners in productivity’.

Unite is calling for an industrial strategy which embraces:

  • investment in infrastructure, equipment, services, skills and innovation
  • better work organisation with worker and trade union input
  • well-paid, decent, secure jobs
  • rebalancing the economy away from an overreliance on financial services
  • reform of the banking system to ensure investment in the real economy
  • corporate governance reform to end the short-termism that inhibits investment

Cut time spent sitting in office

A panel of international experts have recommended a minimum of two hours daily standing time, in the first ever UK guidance on the topic: The sedentary office: a growing case for change towards better health and productivity.

Office workers should be on their feet for up to four hours a day to curb the health risks of too much cumulative sitting time.

Professor John Buckley, lead author of the expert statement, said: “Irrespective of your level of physical activity, prolonged sedentary working leads to a significant increase in the risk of: heart disease, diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, depression and muscle and joint problems.”

However, prolonged static standing should also be avoided. Occupational standing and walking have, however, not been shown to be causally linked to low back and neck pain and can provide relief.


Positive effects of union reps

Employers looking to cut trade union facility time should take account of the benefits union reps can provide in fostering staff well-being and job satisfaction. A positive attitude engendered by workplace reps is likely to contribute to higher productivity, lower staff turnover and lower absenteeism, the researchers say.

The study comprises a survey of members of general union Unite in the UK finance sector, some of whom work where there is an on-site union rep and some who do not. It suggests that those working where there is an on-site union rep are likely to feel better about their job.

John Earls, Unite’s head of research and co-author of the research, said that the current debate about facility time, which has tended to focus on the perceived “cost”, should also value and support the work of workplace reps, including collective and individual representation and giving advice and information.

Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) blog

Conservative Party is back to union bashing

The Conservative Party wasted no time after its general election win to start union bashing. Business secretary Sajid Javid in the Tory administration has promised “significant changes” to strike laws in the Queen’s Speech, which will take place in May.
A strike affecting essential public services will need the backing of 40% of eligible union members under government plans, he said. There will also need to be a minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots.
The government will also lift restrictions on the use of agency staff to replace striking workers, said Javid.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government’s proposals on union ballots will make legal strikes close to impossible.”

BBC News

TUC press release

2014-15 Pay deal

  • 1% uplift on each teacher-related staff grade;
  • 2% uplift on each clerical and admin grade;

The 2% for clerical and admin staff was conditional on member’s acceptance of the 1% for teacher-related staff in accordance with the established practice of linking their award to that of teachers.

Car Lease scheme 2014

Unite has been informed that the hold-up with the Car Lease Scheme agreed as part of the 2013-2014 pay deal is related to the contracts that have to be agreed between the NASUWT and the Lease Company and the contracts that have to be agreed between the NASUWT and the scheme users. The lease arrangements are not the same as the scheme currently used to provide employees with cars as part of their contractual arrangements.
In addition, the Employer is in the process of arranging a date in February to start informal discussions over the staffing situation in the regional/national centres.