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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Friday, 15 August 2014

A new framework for industrial relations in Scotland

The 'Working Together' Review has set out a positive new framework for industrial relations in Scotland.

Last February the Scottish Government commissioned an independent review of progressive workplace policies and practices in the public and private sectors in Scotland. It was Chaired by Jim Mather and had a broad based membership from employers, trade unions (including UNISON's Lilian Macer) and academics. The aim was to identify best practice to promote collective bargaining and innovation in the workplace.

In many ways the strength of this report is in the description of industrial relations in Scotland today. It dispels many of the myths about relations between unions and employers, highlighting the positive relationships that rarely get media coverage. Scotland does of course benefit from significantly higher union density than the rest of the UK, but this report goes further in setting out the range and depth of industrial relations practice. This is helpfully illustrated with case studies and examples from a range of sectors.

The Review Group identified a shared ambition to embed progressive workplace practices to boost innovation and productivity and deliver successful organisations, sustainable business and economic growth, high-quality jobs and a more equitable society. This is reflected in the key themes for action that include:

  • investing in the capacity of union members and staff - and enhancing employer capacity in the same way - to deliver economic, social and civic benefits;
  • investing in dialogue and communication about fair work to achieve a broader and deeper recognition of the benefits that accrue from unions and employers working together, and a shared commitment to progressive workplace policies;
  • fostering real opportunities for unions, employees and employers to work together which embeds these values more systematically and maximises the benefits of shared knowledge and distributed leadership;
  • a willingness to resource, evidence, share and learn from what works.

There are 30 recommendations in the report that seek to deliver practical actions in support of the key themes.

They recommend that there should be a new strategic stakeholder body to provide leadership and support the development of better industrial relations. The model is to be promoted through procurement and the other policy levers of government. Practical measures that I particularly welcome, include recognition of the valuable role equality and green union representatives can play in the workplace. A number of UNISON projects have shown the value of these and the proposed environmental workplace fund would aid the development of green reps.

For the public sector there is a recognition of the merits of the NHS partnership model and the benefits of a degree of common best practice. This reflects the Christie recommendations and UNISON's case for a national workforce strategy. Extending worker directors to all public bodies is also welcome and the Scottish Government has an opportunity to deliver on this in the Food (Scotland) Bill.

The basic premise behind these recommendations is that the economic and social challenges and opportunities facing Scotland are more likely to be addressed successfully in an environment where unions play their full part. Those in trade unions who cling to the Marxist school of industrial relations, or the 'race to the bottom' employers, won't find a lot in this report to encourage their approach. However, most employers and trade unions in Scotland will welcome this report and look to the Scottish Government to translate their response to the recommendations into action.


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