Conflict at work

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Industrial disputes are not a rare occurrence in today’s society. Examples of this are highlighted in the media whenever we switch on our televisions or open our newspapers. I have strung together a report on why industrial disputes happen, including some of the recent and current industrial disputes. In February 2002, London Underground drivers devised a strike to see their pay rise by 5. 7 percent. The strike was called off once union negotiators accepted a pay offer. Once in talks with officials representing Aslef, and the Rail Maritime and Transport Union, London Underground increased the offer.

The General Secretary of RMT said after the agreement that he was pleased to have reached a settlement without having to resort to industrial action. This specific industrial dispute occurred, because tube drivers felt they were in need of a pay rise. The dispute was resolved thanks to the employers granting the drivers a pay rise. In this case, the tube drivers were the ‘winners’ of this industrial dispute, because they did not lose any pay by following through with the strike, and they arrived at their pay rise unscathed by the drawbacks of the proposed industrial action.

In the same month as the London Underground tube drivers industrial dispute, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary retaliated after the majority of the Police Federation, representing 125, 000 officers surprisingly rejected a deal on pay and conditions. After the announcement of the result of the vote, Blunkett attacked the Police Federation by stating that by rejecting the offer they have made it clear that they’d rather not bear witness to a reformed and modernised police service.

Blunkett added that this isn’t the first time the Police Federation have resisted change, in fact he believes they’ve been at the forefront of it for ‘decades’. The Home Office blames chief constables for not outlining the merits of the new deal, whilst results of a poll shows a trend of distaste on the new deal by the fact of overtime pay being slashed. Overall, the deal offered officers a much better deal than they presently have, but cuts back overtime and abolishes certain of allowances. Police are barred from industrial action, so striking is out of the question.

The annual conference in May should see the next chapter in this saga. In my opinion, this industrial dispute can be resolved by an amount of negotiation between the Home Office and the Police Federation, where certain details of the new deal can be tweaked, such as overtime pay can get a push and the proposed increase on all pay scales of i?? 400 be balanced in accordance to the overtime deal. This way, the Police Federation is content and furthermore doesn’t require any more financial input on the Home Secretary’s part. This dispute sees no side of the battle on the winning team.

The Home Office are livid at the fact that the Police Federation have slapped them in the face over the new deal and the PF’s deal on pay and conditions hangs in the balance. January, 2002 saw the threat of strike action go down at Manchester airport. Strike became more of a possibility on 22. 01. 02, as security staff voted in favour of the industrial action. Ballots revealed 82 percent were in favour of the walk out. The security staff’s decision came as no surprise as the airport planned to terminate 120 posts, slash wages and introduce new shifts, however the airport insisted security would not be weakened or jeopardised.

The threat of the security walk out promised paralysis of the airport, but taking no risks they hired numerous private security companies as back up in the event the action took place. The dispute heated up as bosses claimed the 150 new security staff had already signed contracts, but the airport also claimed that the issues could be resolved through normal procedures, without need for industrial action. Transport and General Workers’ Union regional spokesman, Dave McCall, however felt the demonstration was relevant to show the airport that it is not a matter to be taken lightly, despite what the company claims.

After this report, came the inevitable second chapter to this dispute’s saga. A little more than a month later, more strikes were planned by the security staff still disputing over the planned cutbacks by bosses. This certain string of strikes was proposed to take the form of five, hour long stoppages. Airport bosses, however seem unaffected by the strikes, remarking on the part of a spokesperson that passengers have not been affected by the strikes nor have they had an impact on the workings of the airport.

Union leaders claim the cuts have sprung from airport bosses striving to increase profit margins and ignoring the security staff’s issues generated by the cuts. Dave McCall, making another appearance this time stated that the airport can not rely on employing top quality security officers on the lowly pay they are being offered in the new deals. After the disastrous industrial dispute involving security staff at Manchester airport, you’d think there had been enough action there to last a lifetime.

This was proven wrong as in March 2002, the same month as the security staff issue, baggage handlers were on the verge of striking due to a jobs cut plan by employer, Servisair. The strikes would be followed up if the majority of handlers voted to strike. This, obviously would be yet another blow to the airport following the security staff equation and one they wouldn’t need. The baggage handlers were set to vote on the strike two weeks from the date, the dispute was reported, around Easter time, when 170, 000 people would be using the airport.

Servisair plan to cut 80 posts much to the anger of handlers. This dispute is unconnected to that of the security staff’s which rages on, furious at the decision to axe 150 jobs and throw their employment into turmoil by cutting wages and re-arranging shift patterns. An indication of the cancellation of industrial action on the part of the baggage handlers is the retreat of Servisair on the matter, who supposedly stated, in order to cool the matter, that in fact there would be no redundancies, but added that they could not offer any guarantees beyond the end of the summer.

However, the baggage handlers’ union have taken no interest in the negotiation, stating that although they would like to avoid industrial action, it seems inevitable due to the handling of the matter by Servisair. The atmosphere amongst baggage handlers is that of pure anger towards the matter, the common view on the situation is that Servisair need the workers they plan to dismiss and the airport will inevitably struggle in their absence, confused at this, the handlers refuse to accept the need to inflict redundancies.

Directly, Servisair refused to comment, as did a spokesman for the airport. The whole issue with Manchester airport boils down to there being no winners in this industrial dispute, both workers and the bosses are affected negatively. The bosses in that the running of their airport is in jeopardy, if industrial action takes place, it will inevitably cost the airport a substancial amount of money.

The back and forth overview of the dispute is immediately identified as tedious, a conclusion many of the workers will have adopted, this lowers job satisfaction and overall morale. All of the above industrial disputes, in some way or another, need to be resolved. Negotiation is the most effective method of arriving at an agreement, typically the union representative of that certain company will arrange a meeting with management to discuss the dispute, the exchange of views on the matter will commence, finally resulting with an agreement of some kind.

However, this meeting is not always successful and sometimes leads to no change whatsoever. In this case the steps are repeated, in extreme cases where neither side have accepted a decision, industrial action takes place. Sometimes, however ACAS is introduced into the equation, made up of trade union reps, academics and business people, it encourages a settlement that all parties may agree to. Whatever the dispute, whatever the implications, industrial disputes mean hassle to both workers and employers.

There always seems to be negative affects during and after the dispute, which is why they are discouraged by both employees and bosses alike, there is never a straight out winner, this is evident in the reviewed industrial disputes mentioned, in my opinion, industrial disputes and eventual action should only occur in extreme cases, in this day and age, irrelevant disputes are regularly displayed in the public eye, we have grown to accept industrial disputes as a formality in the workplace, which is a self inflicted affair.

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