The climate has changed. No one expects a return to the 1960s and 1970s when union influence became disproportionate. Many believe that the pendulum has swung back too far the other way. Even Tony Blair commends the advantages of ‘flexible’ labour markets. Unions such as the AEEU will next week be urging investment in training to ensure manufacturing’s survival. Hardly an irresponsible or dangerously radical suggestion.
In the sector where union unrest was greatest, automotive, Japanese inward investors Nissan, Toyota and Honda negotiated single union deals. Being unionised did not prevent them from taking three of the top four places in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s international study of automotive productivity last month. Nor has it stopped the innovative practices brought in from Japan spreading through the rest of the unionised UK car industry.
In Germany, partnership between employers and unions helped build Europe’s strongest economy. The recent difficulties there were held by many to show that the relationship had run its course, but Germany’s car industry now appears to be leading the recovery following restructuring.
A recent survey by Investors in People and accountancy bodies CIMA and ICA showed that finance directors were in favour of promoting ‘soft’ measures of company performance to equal prominence with the usual hard financial measures. This was in recognition that people issues, the way companies train, develop and motivate their staff, are crucial factors in retaining customers, now seen as essential to corporate success. One criterion for measuring a company’s performance in this connection could be, it is suggested, the Investors in People standard.