CBI boss now comes for the unions

25 October 2012 By Roger Jeary Deputy Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry Nathan Bentley has trained his sights on trade unions.

Commentary icon25 Oct 2012|Comment

25 October 2012

By Roger Jeary

Deputy Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry Nathan Bentley has trained his sights on trade unions.

Who does Neil Bentley (Deputy Director-General of CBI) think he is? In an address to Eversheds Labour Relations Conference on 24th October 2012 he took the opportunity to tell trade unions how they could become more democratic and further limit their collective rights. Not content with lobbying government to destroy individual rights at work or do away with them altogether for shares, now the CBI is advocating weakening statutory recognition rights, restricting the right to organise strikes and introduce strike breaking rights for employers.

He dressed this attack up in a speech recognising the worth of trade unions (when they agree with employers) and the trend of moving to individual contracts of employment in the modern workplace. He argues that statutory recognition should always be subject to a ballot even when more than 50% of employees have joined the union. His basis for this is that when ballots are carried out (i.e. when less than 50% have joined the union) they are unsuccessful 38% of the time. This ill conceived logic omits to consider that in such cases workers will have been reluctant to join the union for many reasons, most common from experience being threats from the employer, real or implied. He goes on to imply that not to have a ballot is in some way undemocratic and that new employees should have a say in continued recognition by having the right to demand a new ballot every three years. How this provides stability in industrial relations I am not quite sure. And coming from an organisation whose members rarely display democratic tendencies in their management of corporate organisations this really is a bit rich.

When it comes to strikes whilst Mr Bentley acknowledges the right of unions to strike, (probably through gritted teeth – but in fairness I wasn’t there to see if this assumption is true), he reminds us that the CBI has already called for the introduction of a threshold in strike ballots similar to that demanded in statutory recognition ballots. But that is not enough, he now wants to make the grounds for strike action to be more clearly spelt out and aggregate strikes (where more than one employer is involved at the same time) outlawed. In other words fragment union organisation wherever possible or, as we used to describe it – divide and rule.

Finally whilst workers exercise their democratic right to strike Mr Bentley wants employers to be allowed to break collective agreements with the union and make direct offers to individual workers to settle the dispute.
I suppose we should not be surprised by any of this coming from the CBI but we should certainly be aware of it and given the nature of the ongoing review of employment legislation and government’s acknowledgement in recent consultations that the business voice counts for far more than any others – watch out for the next attack on workers under the guise of “modernising trade unions”.

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Roger Jeary

Roger Jeary Roger Jeary retired from Unite in January 2012 after 33 year’s service as a negotiating officer and Director of Research. Roger worked in Northern Ireland, Manchester and London as an official of the union starting with ASTMS and then MSF and AMICUS before the final merger to Unite. In 2004 he was appointed Director of Research of Amicus and subsequently took on that role for Unite in 2007. Roger is a member of the Institute’s Publications Sub Committee. Currently Roger is a Trustee Director of FairPensions, an independent member of the ACAS Panel of Arbitrators, sits on the Advisory Panel of the IPA and is a member of the Manufacturing Policy Panel of the Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET).