A better relationship between workers and management
Forging a new relationship between employers and employees
We have railway workers on strike over pay, terms and conditions changes, redundancies. The workers going on strike are those employed by Network Rail, a company owned by the Department of Transport, alongside London Underground workers who will also be going on strike. These strikes are mostly by the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union but there are also other unions on strike and more could follow in other public services.
The reason behind this strike for the workers is clear, the changes to Network Rail and the cost of living crisis hitting workers. They are faced with either unemployment or seeing prices rise whilst their pay doesn’t.
The unions on strike want the following:
- “…a pay rise which reflects the cost of living after saying members have gone two years without one“.
- “…no compulsory redundancy agreement to cover all rail staff until at least the end of 2022“.
- “…protections for their members’ terms and conditions including pensions, safety and wellbeing“.
However, in the words of the Network Rail chief executive workers “must recognise we are a public body and any pay increase has to be affordable for taxpayers“. With no agreement over these issues we are left with negotiations and strikes. Both of these will harm cause disruption to commuters, workers and Network Rail itself.
Solving the issues and ending this strike will take negotiations which can often last significant amounts of time. In the end, however, we are likely to see a deal reached by the two sides even if this may take weeks to agree.
The easy option to solving this dispute is to increase funding for the railways but we need longer term solutions for strikes. Ideally we need to prevent strike action from being needed in the first place. We need to find a better solution for businesses, consumers and workers who will be hit by the cost of living crisis.
Workers on company boards and collective bargaining
For a start we need workers on company boards in the same way Germany and Finland do. This means better communication between businesses and their employees and more input from them when plans like this are being made. It also allows them to hold the company to account when they make decisions and could have avoided the strike taking place.
We also need mandatory collective bargaining in every company and public service both when employees apply to join and when they are renegotiating their contract. I think this process would have allowed for longer term discussions over both changes to terms and conditions and to pay. Once again this could have avoided strikes, it would have resulted in more negotiations and hopefully a deal at the end of it.
Collective bargaining and workers on company boards are two policies that would increase the power workers have in a company. Denmark is a great example of just how powerful these policies can be where the country doesn’t actually have a minimum wage. Instead wages are negotiated as part of collective bargaining. Whilst I wouldn’t ever get rid of the minimum wage this shows just how powerful collective bargaining can be.
These policies will also help businesses by making it easier for businesses to communicate with employees, allowing the government to cut regulation in areas that collective bargaining works better and giving workers the best chance of securing a deal that means they don’t have to strike.
In our latest podcast episode Will Barber-Taylor also spoke to Stephen Kinnock about Flexicurity. This system involves lifelong learning, financial support for those who are unemployed and helping workers to get back into work by improving job centres and flexible contracts with employers. This is a model we very much support and it is a key lesson we can learn from Denmark. This system is something we should adopt within the UK.
The final thing I want to cover is how this fits in with our commitment to “Back businesses”. After all you may think that collective bargaining and workers on company boards doesn’t sound very “free market”. The first thing to mention is that you don’t just need unions to negotiate in collective bargaining or on company boards. Staff association and other groups that play some some of the roles unions do also exist so it is more than just pro union, it’s also helps workers regardless of whether they are in a union.
You also get the best of both worlds between worker power and business flexibility. On the one hand it gives workers more power within businesses and to negotiate with businesses on issues they care about. On the other hand, if it is accompanied by fewer regulations replaced with collective bargaining then it can also make life easier for businesses.
About the author
Director and Founder
Torrin founded Centre in 2020. In the role has written numerous papers including one backed by the Gaps in Support APPG which contained 260 MPs. He has also written policies for political parties and appeared on a wide range of media including TV and radio. He has a Political Studies degree from Aberystwyth University.