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Published by: Unions TwentyOne on Aug 19, 2010
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Newly-elected UCU general secretary Sally Hunt saysthat mergers should be the starting point for a freshapproach and we all need to face up to the challengesfor 21st century trade unions.
Union mergers are unny things. Oten they come aboutbecause one union is struggling nancially or one ishaemorrhaging members. The merger o the Associationo University Teachers (AUT) and the National Associationo Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), toorm the University and College Union (UCU), happenedwhen both were nancially sound and membership levelsincreasing.We ormed the largest post-16 education union in theworld because it was the right thing or us to do – andthe communications teams said it would reduce acronymexplanations in the opening paragraph o press releases!We merged because we know we will be bigger andstronger together. Our members agree and know this too,which was evident in the overwhelming mandate bothunions received when the decision to merge was put toballot. However, we are ully aware that whilst a merger willgive a union more members, it cannot guarantee any newones. The merger may have only happened in June last year,but I believe things should have moved even quicker. Thelast thing the new union needed was a lengthy period o uncertainty or the type o background in-ghting that candivert attention away rom actually getting on with the job.We have now elected a general secretary and executive. Iwas ortunate enough to be chosen as the rst UCU generalsecretary and I am keen to get the ball moving as soon aspossible. There are, o course, many challenges ahead o us but, withthe best o bits o the predecessor unions at our disposal, weare equipped to meet them. One o the key challenges is torerain rom insisting something worked better the way AUT or NATFHE did things. Neither o those unions exists anymore
Issue Number 8 |
Summer 2007
and everything the new union does will be UCU’s way o doing things. This really should be the time to take a resh look at ourapproach to some o our traditional problems and also howunions must operate in the 21st century.I want a politically independent, industrially condent UCUthat speaks with authority or its members. To do this wehave to stay in the mainstream, not move to the politicalringe. This is not a union that will be directed by or dictatedto rom small committees. We cannot rely on just a handulo voices to determine policy. We must engage muchmore with the membership and ensure that UCU really iscampaigning on the issues our members eel strongestabout.I was talking to a riend o a riend recently and theconversation turned to what we did or a living and ontotrade unions. She revealed that she had recently joined herunion, but didn’t eel it was or her. She had been to a branchmeeting and hardly understood a word. The whole event,she said, was dominated by a couple o people who seemedmore intent on scoring points on immaterial issues thantaking things orward. The most recent trade union membership statistics showedthe largest annual percentage drop in nearly a decade and,as I keep saying, with twice as many people members o slimming clubs than in trade unions, we cannot pretend thatwe do not have work to do.We must take our message out beyond the general meetingor the committee and convince a new generation that weare worth belonging to. There is a whole generation in work whose knowledge o unions has been taken rom lms suchas Billy Elliot and Brassed O. It is not good enough to justcome up with reasons why people don’t join unions – weneed to be nding reasons why people will want to joinunions.
continued on back cover...
Union mergers
are funny things
ForeFront is published by Unions 21 in association with
and in asscociation with 020 7924 7555
ForeFrontNewsletter5.indd 130/7/07 13:32:31
Debate at Unions 21 events is increasingly noting that asa movement we need to develop and share best practicein the way we internally manage ourselves. In orderto deliver the best or our members we need to runeective organisations and manage our employees well.This article explains how one union, ATL, has invested inthe development o proessional sta.
ATL is a member-led democratic organisation that recognisesthe importance o managing proessional sta proessionally.It is the Human Resources sub-committee o the NationalExecutive that oversees the HR Strategy and the annualplans which detail what is to be delivered during that period. The Executive operates with respect or the dierencebetween governance and management so having set theHR strategy, policies and plans, leaves it to the managersunder the direction o the General Secretary to manage theorganisation. The HR strategy and plans cover every aspect o HRmanagement including learning & development. As a unionthat now has a dedicated Learning & Development teamworking with and growing a network o well over 100 ULRsit would be hypocritical i we didn’t take the developmento our own employees seriously. To demonstrate itscommitment to the value o continuing proessionaldevelopment or all employees, ATL signicantly increased itssta training budget rom 2006.ATL believes in the benets o diversity and this means theirteam comes rom a range o backgrounds o public, privateand not-or-prot sectors and with very dierent mixtureso experience in the education sector, trade union activismand unctional expertise (Casework, Policy Research, Finance,Communications, Organising, IT etc). They also do dierent jobs, some are active in classic trade union activities such ascasework, negotiations, organising and policy development,but others are accountants, IT specialists, secretaries,acilities managers, etc. ATL values them all and the dierentperspectives they bring and, with such diversity, a widerange o learning and development needs to be addressed.ATL recognises that there are three main types o development needs to be met:
Organisation-wide Issues
In the last year they provided training on the basics o why“Organising” is so important or ATL as a growing union toevery one o their 140 employees. This year, they’ve alreadyrun diversity training or all line managers as part o theleadership development programme and later this year willbe delivering diversity awareness training or all employees.
Functional expertise
ATL wants to be the best trade union it can be and to do thisencourage and support everybody to be the best at theirunctional skills. For example, Nicki Landau, Head o HumanResources at ATL has earned her Fellowship o the CharteredInstitute o Personnel & Development (FCIPD) and become acertied master practitioner in neuro-linguistic programming(NLP). Both these developments were supported by ATL.Similarly, numerous colleagues at all levels are developingunctional expertise appropriate to their jobs. Many, thoughnot all o which, include qualications or membershipo proessional bodies. Among these they include ATL’sOrganising team who are ollowing the TUC OrganisingAcademy training programme.
General Skills
Since 2006 ATL has had a leadership developmentprogramme or all line managers and potential linemanagers. It has also included senior people on every intakeo the TUC’s “Leading Change” programme. ATL wantseverybody to be IT literate and ensures the development o general IT skills through an external provider while oeringtailored IT training internally on major systems such as themembership and casework systems. In the near uturethey will be developing structured project managementcompetency or those sta who require it. The main way in which ATL has identied and prioritisedtraining needs is encouraging good general management.Regular 1-2-1 sessions between individual and line manager,together with an annual appraisal system introduced in2006, allow individuals to discuss their development needsand enable managers to eed these to HR so that generaland individual development activities can be planned.Certainly ATL want the best rom employees in their currentroles but members genuinely want their employees toprosper in their longer careers too. That is why learningand development extends beyond skills and competenciesor current jobs. ATL is as keen to support those who wishto transer laterally within ATL and have been pleased topromote various colleagues into higher level roles whenvacancies have arisen. However, as a small to medium sizedorganisation o 140 employees ATL accepts that they will notbe able to oer internal career advancement to everyone. That’s partly why ATL display vacancies within other unionsand encourage ATL people to consider other unions as theirnext employer whenever they eel ready to move so that thetalent developed by ATL will continue to add value to thetrade union movement.
Currently ATL are very interested in exploring the possibilityo secondments between unions, to help individuals developthemselves. So Nicki Landau would be pleased to hear romother unions that either have people who might benet rom asecondment at ATL or who have a temporary vacancy that anATL person might ll. To contact Nicki e-mail nlandau@atl.org.uk 
ForeFrontNewsletter5.indd 230/7/07 13:32:31
Work is good or our healthand well-being. That’s theclear fnding rom a majorresearch report recentlypublished by the DWP.Unemployment increasesthe risk o both physical andmental illness. And “work frst” is the most eectivepolicy to tackle poverty andsocial exclusion.
While all this may be true, o course, we also know thatwork is only really good orus i it is “good work. Anemployee in a badly designedlow status job is much morelikely to have a heart attack than the supposedly highlystressed senior manager on theexecutive oor.According to Michael Marmot,the British epidemiologist, theollowing workplace actorscan have a clear negativeimpact on both health and lieexpectancy:Employment insecurityMonotonous and boringwork A lack o control over thework that you do and littlechoice about how the jobgets done.An imbalance between theeort workers make and therewards that they receive– this is not just aboutpay, but also captures theidea that workers shouldbe treated with respectby their employer and
should be praised or goodperormanceA lack o procedural justicein the workplace – in otherwords, workers cannot becertain that they will betreated airly i they get intodifculty.Low trust relationshipsbetween employees andbetween the employees andemployer – in the technical jargon this is described as“low social capital”In other words workers in bad jobs (who are oten low paid o course) are sick more oten anddie younger than their morehighly paid and higher statuscolleagues. Class distinctionsmay have been eroded inthe last thirty years, but therecan be no doubt that socialposition still conditions liechances.Recent research publishedby the DTI raises some bigquestions about whether wehave enough high quality jobsin the UK. For example, 55%o workers say that their jobsinvolve monotonous tasks,almost a third say that their work oers ew opportunities orlearning, around 60% say thatthey have little autonomy atwork. And the result is that theUK has the sixth lowest score or job quality in the EU 27.Work organisation and jobdesign may not be traditionaltrade union issues but, as wecan see, they are the source
o much discontent in today’sworkplaces. Making thepromotion o “good work” apriority in both organisingand bargaining strategiescould lead to a rapid growthin membership and the abilityto make more o a dierenceto people’s working lives. Withtrade unions in the lead Britishworkplaces could be healthier,happier and more productive. This is more than just wishulthinking. For the rst time thegovernment has recognisedthat work is a public healthissue and that improving thehealth o the nation demandsan improvement in the qualityo work. The DWP and theDepartment o Health havedeveloped a joint strategy orthe Health, Work and Well-Being o Working Age People,which may be little knownbut remains an importantstatement o intent.O course, that still leaves thequestion: how can employersbe engaged? Many will takeright at the suggestion thattrade unions are beginning tolook at the texture and detail o the employment relationship.Indeed, we might anticipatevigorous resistance to anythingthat could be interpreted asan erosion o managementprerogative. But even apessimistic commentatorwould recognise that mostorganisations are concernedabout sickness absence.Oten this is reected in thestandard employer bleatingabout eckless and lazy publicservants (who have a higherlevel o sickness than theirprivate sector colleagues) or anapparent wish to implementmore coercive attendancemanagement policies. Butgood employers have alreadyrecognised that they will neversecure better attendanceunless they pay close attentionto the workplace actors thatgenerate high absence levels.Hard experience is drivingemployers to the conclusionthat improvements in work organisation, job design, jobcontent and organisationalculture oer a betterprospectus or change thanworkplace health promotionactivities like low-at ood insta restaurants, reduced gymmembership ees or an Indianhead massage at your desk.A dispassionate reading o thesituation suggests that unions,i they are creative, can reshapethe national conversationabout work. Setting out apersuasive and progressivevision o the uture has beenmissing rom the trade unionstory or some time – and aocus on job quality is likely toprove attractive to governmenttoo. So let’s stop tilting atwindmills or demanding theimpossible and get on with thereal task at hand. It’s a greatopportunity. Unions would beoolish to let it pass by.David Coats is AssociateDirector at The Work Foundation
Good Work for All? 
 Job Quality, Health and Well-Being in BritishWorkplaces
ForeFrontNewsletter5.indd 330/7/07 13:32:31

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