Professor Gregor Gall has joined 32 other academics in criticizing the Civil Service’s approach to industrial relations in a letter to The Independent last Friday:

As scholars of industrial and employment relations, we condemn the unilateral action by the Coalition Government to remove the “check off” arrangements from the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union. This follows on from other actions against PCS, including reducing facility time for union reps, victimising reps, marginalising PCS in multi-union negotiations, and supporting a breakaway union in the HMRC.

Such actions go against the spirit and practice of conducting good industrial relations, promoted by the likes of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and by the UN International Labour Organisation (of which Britain is a member).

The way to resolve any industrial dispute is to conduct negotiations in good faith with the bona fide representatives of the workforce. We expect higher standards of conduct from the employer in industrial relations here because these industrial relations concern the running of public services.

We urge the Coalition Government to withdraw its notice of termination of “check off” arrangements and to allow an independent third party to conduct a review of industrial relations in the Civil Service with a view to making recommendations for the return to orderly industrial relations. We note the such a review was used to good effect and with the consent of both unions and management in the smoothing out of many industrial relations issues in the Royal Mail.

Professor Gregor Gall

University of Bradford

Professor Stephen Bach

King’s College, University of London

Professor Susan Corby

University of Greenwich

Professor Ian Greer

University of Greenwich

Professor Irena Grugulis

University of Leeds

Professor Miguel Martinez Lucio

University of Manchester

and 27 others

There is no question that there is a concerted effort to harm PCS, be far the largest trade union in the civil service, but given the last Tory government’s attacks in GCHQ that should be a surprise to no-one. This time round it is the abolition of Check-Off that is the primary means of attack, a move that has been snuck in before the General Election in May 2015. But one of the sub-plots is the government’s maintenance and encouragement of alternative staff associations in an attempt to divide union memberships such as is seen in the National Crime Agency and HMRC. Given just days after this call HMRC reneged on an earlier pledge not to abolish check-off I think the signs of a mea culpa from the Government can best be described as ‘remote’.

But what of inter-union relations within the TUC? Perhaps the most pernicious move of this Government, which has attracted limited public attention, was Francis Maude’s direct instruction that Unision, a union with next to no membership base in the civil service should be given negotiating rights. As Left Unity make clear, and I fully agree, this is “a drive to divide the union movement.”  In the same way that PCS must, if given a similar ‘offer’ in say healthcare refuse so Unison should refuse this offer. It is pleasing that some Unison figures such as Jon Rogers have called on Unison to reject the offer:

It is deeply unfortunate that Tory Minister Francis Maude dictated that UNISON should be give negotiating rights in the civil service in circumstances in which this could so easily be made to appear a reward for UNISON having done the employers’ bidding over pensions. (We don’t need such rights and ought really to repudiate this unwelcome offer).
I am sure we in UNISON never meant to make ourselves look like Tory stooges in this way!

Now would be a good time for us to make our support for PCS crystal clear.
Gregor Gall is right to call for a more constructive approach to industrial relations from civil service leaders. But equally, let’s also have a clear commitment from TUC unions to refuse to be pawns in the political machinations of those leaders. To date, unless I have missed it, Unison has given no clear rejection of Maude’s offer.