Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Unions to face up to challenge of change

Two current developments in the UK are beginning to highlight growing challenges unions must face in the years ahead.

Moving Ever Upwards ?
Aside from two obvious challenges the Postal Workers Union have to face, namely deregulation and the introduction of internet based communication, what about the need to embrace the tough mindset that many of us have faced ? That of taking a step backwards before we can again move forwards ?

Too many of us have believed that we can only move upwards in life, that any kind of backward step is admitting failure, or giving up. But sometimes it is necessary to admit that things haven't worked, or that the goalposts have moved substantially.

Too often, we hear unions refusing to accept their employees receive any less than they get now. Perhaps this is just a negotiating tactic, but what are the effects ?

Introducing Competition
When competition is introduced, communications workers begin to have a choice, and we can see the introduction not only from the likes of UBS & TNT, but the legions of white van driver companies now springing up to deliver physical goods purchased over the internet.

Choice of employer means operators can begin to negotiate their own salaries, and appreciate their true value.

Artificial Constraints ?
Where unions then artificially apply an across the board salary structure and rigidly stick to pay grades, this distorts an operators ability to perform effectively in the market, and provides the competition with cost and reliability advantages. It is folly to suggest, for example, that unions can control wages across national borders, as might soon be discussed with outsourced teaching resources from India. Regional costing has to be a key factor, and has to be market driven, even inside the UK.

The Introduction of New Choices
For the Royal Mail postal workers, strike action taken allows customers time and the motivation to consider other options. This could be UBS or TNT for parcel delivery and email for posting any literature.

The point here is that the goal posts have now moved substantially. As we all know, those who try to resist change are often left behind, and do worse than those who try to adapt to change and move with it.

Facing Behavioural Challenges
For unions then, it appears the 3 key challenges they face are actually internal: adapting to face up to changed market circumstances; understanding the need to cost regionally and flexibly; and taking on board that sometimes we all have to move back a step before we can move forward again.

With BT having gone through similar painful change, can the unions step up to the mark today and help their Postal Worker members meet this challenge more successfully. And how will the teacher's union adapt to potential changes in their market ? We watch and wait ......