Employers and unions have attacked government efforts to foster partnerships in industrial relations, describing the initiative as vague and under-funded.
Speaking at a conference organised by Unions 21, part of the Trades Union Congress, David Yeandle, deputy director of the Engineering Employers’ Federation said the £5m fund, set up in 1999 to run over four years, was unlikely to be successful.
‘Quite frankly £5m over four years is a drop in the ocean,’ he said. ‘If the government was really serious about this then it needs a serious amount of money.’
The partnership scheme promoted by the government entails employers and unions signing formal agreements to improve industrial relations.
Projects that might qualify for funding could address specific issues affecting conditions and productivity and also provide training for managers and employee representatives.
But at the conference on Saturday, titled Unions and Labour’s Second Term, both sides said the idea was too vague, and instead of agreement, unions and company management might be inclined to use the partnership for different ends.
While unions might want to tackle questions of pay and conditions, Yeandle told the conference that pro-partnership companies saw issues such as adding value, solving old problems, and making the best use of employees as the main areas for discussion.
Delegates at the conference said they were suspicious of company motives for getting involved in partnership agreements.
Tina McKay, regional officer of the MSF union, said one company used as an example in DTI partnership literature had later gone against the spirit of the agreement.
‘The government example included a company that, after two employee ballots rejected partnership, derecognised the union and then imposed partnership. That’s not how I think partnership should work.’
McKay said issues that could be discussed through constructive partnership arrangements were equal opportunities, health and safety, and the clarification of working procedure.
However, she said the MSF has obtained £26,000 from the fund to enable its members working in NHS trusts to run training schemes.
‘More cash would be helpful, but we’ve been pretty lucky in securing funds,’ she added.
The DTI will pay 50% of a partnership project’s costs, up to £50,000. Those eligible are companies, employer federations, trade unions, trade associations, Business Links, Training and Enterprise Councils (or Local Enterprise Companies in Scotland), public sector bodies and charities.
There have been 76 approved projects over the past two years and the deadline for 2001 funding is 25 May.
Unions 21 is supported by organisations including the T&G, MSF and the ITSC.