The study also provides reliable data from which we can try to assess what we are doing with our collective workplace presence. The recently published summary of the first findings of the study includes, for example, the following information on redundancies;
"Around one in eight workplaces (13%) had made staff redundant in the 12 months prior to the 2011 survey (compared with 9% in 2004). In most cases (87%), managers had consulted with employees or their representatives before making anyone redundant. Managers almost always did so (95%) when two or more employees were being laid off.
The outcomes of redundancy consultation were mixed. The consultation process generated alternatives to redundancy or reduced the number of redundancies in 22% of workplaces where a consultation took place. Changes were made to the employer's means of preparing employees for redundancy in 19% of cases. Other changes were less common: strategies for redeployment were identifed or changed in 14%; redundancy payments were increased in 10%; and the criteria for selection were changed in 5%. Overall, managers' original proposals were altered in at least one of the ways listed in 40% of workplaces that engaged in consultation over redundancy. Some 18% of workplaces experienced multiple changes in managers' original proposals."
My initial reaction to these figures, working for an employer which has made redundancies over the period since the General Election equivalent to about one sixth of its workforce at the time - but where our rearguard action has saved many jobs - is that these statistics suggest that, as a movement, we could be saving more of our members from redundancies.
The statutory requirements for redundancy consultation, where a trade union is recognised, and where 20 or more redundancies are proposed (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1992/52/part/IV/chapter/II/crossheading/duty-of-employer-to-consult-trade-union-representatives), give union representatives some clout we rarely have.
"The consultation shall include consultation about ways of—
(a)avoiding the dismissals,
(b)reducing the numbers of employees to be dismissed, and
(c)mitigating the consequences of the dismissals,
and shall be undertaken by the employer with a view to reaching agreement with the appropriate representatives."
Starting from an assertive and informed reliance upon this law, I think we should, as workplace trade unionists, be able to reduce the number of redundancies in more than 22% of cases.
I should add the caveat that the more detailed WERS data which will become available later in the year may enable more informed debate about this question. It's also worth remembering that WERS is a time-limited snapshot and that maybe, as redundancies have penetrated further into our public service heartland, the better organised of our branches are raising our "batting average" when it comes to reducing redundancies.
Nevertheless, activists could do more to share succesful strategies and tactics. My local experience suggests to me that a willingness to encourage industrial action and public campaigning, coupled with an aspiration towards a forensic attention to detail in consultation (with - where it applies - reliance on the public sector equality duty) and backed up by a determined effort to increase membership, and therefore density, is the best recipe for redundancy reduction.
Our unions could do more to encourage a combative approach to resisting job losses - and could do more to give our activists confidence to assert our legal rights as a basis to save jobs.
I'll finish by pointing out that it's because I want more people in the leadership of our movement who share this view that I encourage UNISON activists to try to get their branches to nominate candidates of the left (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/p/nec-2013-left-slate.html?m=1) in the forthcoming elections to our National Executive Council (NEC).
Working people did well to create trade unions, as they are the best way to strive for dignity and justice at work. The evidence suggests they could be better than they are, at least when it comes to resisting and reducing redundancies. I think activists should commit to trying to make our unions better at protecting our members' jobs, which is about rank and file cooperation and communication even more than it's about union elections.
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