Business Secretary Vince Cable gave a warning to the GMB Union conference that new laws would be introduced to restrict strike action if the workforce made extensive use of strikes. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said that the key to avoiding mass strike action was employee engagement.
In the wake of Vince Cable’s speech the Institute urged the Government to build public sector leadership and management skills and improve communication and consultation to help stave off the worst effects of strike action to come.
Mike Emmott, CIPD employee relations adviser, argued that a sustained focus by Government and public service employers on improving the leadership skills of public sector management, providing meaningful consultation opportunities for staff and more effective communication, would help win hearts and minds. There is a need to build a more engaged workforce, despite the turbulence of change. Trade unions have the power to disrupt only if employees trust them more than they trust management. The fundamental need is not to ‘manage the trade unions.”
He added: “Government must strive to avoid heavy-handed action at all costs as it would mean any attempt at trying to lead through consensus had failed. Both Government and trade unions have heavy duty weapons available to them but neither has much to gain from deploying them, which is why Vince Cable is only warning that pressure to act may increase if damaging strikes proliferate, rather than actually proposing legislation now.
Unions, Government, frontline workers and public alike have far more to gain from a strategy focused on building trust and avoiding conflict. The real action is far from the booing and heckling in the conference hall – it is in the front-line engagement between managers and employees and in the presumably mature conversations taking place quietly between ministers and unions.”