first_imgIndustrial relations through consensusOn 5 Aug 2003 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Gerry Sutcliffe, the new employment relations minister, wants to work moreclosely with employers and unions in drafting future legislation. He says HRmust play a key role in preventing the return of poor industrial relations andconfrontation. By Ross WighamGerry Sutcliffe intends to introduce a fresh approach to the role ofemployment relations minister. However, some people may fail to notice that hispredecessor Alan Johnson has been replaced at all, such is the extent of thesimilarities between them. Both are committed Blairites, have similar union backgrounds, and representworking class northern constituencies. They even look quite alike. But despite the parallels, Sutcliffe, while confirming he intends tocontinue the progress made by Johnson at the Department of Trade and Industry(DTI), says he wants to be more inclusive of all stakeholders on the employmentscene. “There won’t be major changes in the style of operation, but we aredifferent people and of course, react to things differently,” he said.”I’ve been in government quite a long time, so I’ve seen some of thesuccesses and failures of ministerial styles. “I believe in consensus and trying to get people to go with you.” More inclusive culture Essentially, Sutcliffe wants to adopt a new approach to employment legislationthat brings all sides to the table before the DTI makes a final decision. He cites as an example, the way the DTI consulted in partnership with theTUC and the CBI while drafting the Government’s plans to introduce the EUInformation and Consultation Directive (ICD). “We want to bring in peopleon all sides of the argument, then create a framework for legislation. It’s notright that a government just imposes regulations.” The ICD, which comes into force for larger firms in 2005, places a duty onemployers to consult with staff in more detail and at an earlier stage onissues affecting employment. Sutcliffe hopes the rules will establish a more inclusive culture, wherestaff will feel more involved and motivated because they are more closely involvedwith decisions that affect the business. “Just getting bits of informationabout redundancies is not what this is about, that would be a negativesituation. It’s about where an organisation is going, where people are going,how training is being developed and making the staff feel valued,” hesaid. The ICD will give staff the right to be informed and consulted on issuessuch as redundancies, changes to work organisation, contractual relations andthe overall economic outlook for the industry. “In a global economy weneed a flexible labour market with safeguards in terms of employment rights. “We’ve made sure this is a framework document that can be flexible indifferent types of organisations. It also offers an opportunity for the unionsto show their relevance in the 21st century,” said Sutcliffe. “It’s about the acceptance and promotion of a concept that can work inthe UK and across Europe. It will improve our competitive edge, and the frameworkgives people a new opportunity to resolve difficulties.” Sutcliffe believes the ICD is indicative of the changing employment climate– not just in the UK but globally. Companies are under increasing pressure tobecome employers of choice that involve and engage their workforce so they canattract the best people in an increasingly competitive labour market. “The labour market is changing – and we’re not talking about the olddays of command and control where employers laid out conditions and everybodyelse responded. “Employers have to compete now because attitudes have changed,” heexplained. Sutcliffe believes the DTI should be promoting legislation that reflects theongoing transformation of the nature of work in general, while helping the UKcreate a workforce that can compete in the global economy. “The goal is full employment and making sure people are in work. I wantthere to be a balance between legitimate and fair employment rights andlegislation that doesn’t impact dramatically on jobs or employers,” hesaid. “Employers can often be negative about legislation, but we’re trying tomake sure our regulations are relevant to both sides and don’t jeopardisebusiness.” He believes the DTI has the best record for introducing workable legislationof any government department, something he claims has been acknowledged by theBetter Regulation Task Force. While aware he will come under pressure on occasion from both employers andunions, Sutcliffe is not unduly concerned about the recent resurgence of a moremilitant trade union movement. And he claims employers shouldn’t worry too much about the so-called‘awkward squad’ – the group of left-wing union leaders pushing for moreold-fashioned Labour ideals such as Bob Crow at the RMT and Tony Woodley at theT&G, because “there’s a bit of rhetoric there, and the new people haveto establish their credentials”. “There’s a great rate of change in employment relations, especiallywith all the new general secretaries at the unions,” he said. “I thinkpeople in new positions often have to show support to those who have electedthem.” But while accepting that the unions are evolving, he challenges the notionthat new battle lines have been drawn, dismissing some of the more outrageousclaims as political posturing. “New lines are being drawn up within themovement and it’s perfectly legitimate for them to have a political view. Iwant to meet people quickly to find out what they stand for and what their realagendas are,” he said. Union modernisation Having been a deputy branch secretary at print unions SOGAT/ GPMU and leaderof Bradford City Council, Sutcliffe has seen employment disputes from bothsides of the fence. He was devastated when 25,000 jobs were lost in hisBradford constituency during his time as a councillor there, but was equallyconfounded by the Conservative attitude to the unions during the 1980s. Sutcliffe cites his experience of the printers’ strikes as an official withthe GPMU as the most negative of his life and doesn’t believe either side wantsto see a return to that confrontational industrial relations culture. The minister praises the work of former TUC general secretary John Monks forhis modernisation of the unions and sees industrial action as a failure forboth unions and employers. “I’ve seen the devastation to communities that a breakdown inemployment relations can cause,” he said. Sutcliffe believes HR can play a key role in preventing this type ofconfrontation by acting as a conduit to help improve the world of work anddrive the UK economy forward on a global scale. “I want to look at the big picture in that we don’t want bad employers.We want companies that value their workforce and offer good rates [of pay] andin return they’ll get reinvestment and higher productivity,” he said. Sutcliffe’s CV2003                Employment Relations Minister2000-03           Governmentwhip, Vice Chamberlain of the Household1992-94           Leader,Bradford City Council1980-94           Deputybranch secretary SOGAT/GPMU                        Director, BradfordTraining and Enterprise Councillast_img

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