Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Union busters looking for new markets

Until recently, union busters have been mostly active in America, but since a couple of years, they also operate in the UK. Researcher John Logan did a study on this phenomenon for the British federation TUC. At the website of The Burke Group (TBG), the largest anti-union consultancy, he found that the firm has been hired in the UK by companies including T-Mobile, Amazon.co.uk, Virgin Atlantic, FlyBe and Kettle Chips. TBG has since password protected its client information.
Logan says that he has the impression that union busters are active mostly at the lower end of the labour market. It regards companies with low wages and deficient labour conditions, where workers are most in need of a union.
For now, he does not want to exaggerate the role of union busters in the UK. “If unions would show more ambition to organise new sectors, there would be a larger market for union busters. David Burke, CEO of TBG, recently said in an interview that he’s not sure yet that there is a substantial market in the UK”.
According to its website, TBG has staff in countries including France, Germany and Belgium. Whether the firm is actually active on the European mainland is difficult to say. In any case, labour relations are not the same. For example, employers in the Netherlands often pay wages in accordance with a collective agreement that applies to an entire sector. Under such circumstances, it does not make as much of a difference whether employees are members of a union or not and therefore, the employer has a weaker incentive to keep out the union.
However, one cannot entirely rule out that union busters are active here, Logan says. “These firms are very decentralised and their consultants are almost like freelancers. They are constantly looking for new markets and they adapt their services to local labour relations”.
Usually, union busters operate in secret. For years, unions in the UK did not have a clue that employers had hired a consultant.
Are there any signs to recognise the involvement of a union buster by? Logan: “Almost without exception, union officials I spoke to said that this was the most aggressive and sophisticated campaign they had ever encountered. These are not standard campaigns, but if you’ve seen a few, you’ll recognise the message”.
Various union officials in the Netherlands say that they have never heard of union consultants operating here. However, they do sometimes encounter aggressive suppression of union activities. An example is the German cleaning company Menke, which works for Center Parcs. Labour relations at Menke are ‘medieval’, says union official Ron Meyer. After months of protests, cleaners today reached an agreement with Center Parcs to deal with the abuses.
Source: Sociaal Europa Krant

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