Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Workers Standing Up For Themselves? There Must Be A Law Against It!

British Airways have gone crawling to the unelected octogenarian wig-wearing brigade in an attempt to get cabin crew strike action declared illegal.

The company claims inaccuracies in the union's ballot, in that people who no longer worked for BA were sent ballot papers. I would be interested to know whether BA notifies Unite when employees leave, because it seems to me that if an employer refuses to assist a union in maintaining 100% accurate membership information, then it has no right to complain if there is a slight flaw.

Moreover, the very idea that a handful of inaccuracies would have altered the outcome of a ballot in which over 80% voted and over 90% of them voted Yes is, of course, completely absurd.

And therein lies the crux of this particular anti-union law. It is not designed to ensure ballots are spotlessly accurate - if it were, it would require employers to co-operate with the union in maintaining records. Rather, it is designed to give courts a pretext to ban strikes at the behest of any employer who can find the tiniest imperfection in the ballot.

The bigger the workforce, the higher the number of workplaces and grades, the faster the staff turnover, the nearer impossible it is for unions to keep up-to-the-minute information for balloting. When RMT on London Underground fell foul of the law on balloting information in 2001, there were 150 staff movements per week on the Tube!

Meanwhile, Unite General Secretary Tony Woodley has just been on the telly. He told us that his members (not himself, presumably) were prepared to take a permanent 2.5% pay cut as an alternative to BA's proposals, and that they would call off the strike if the company paused - explicitly, did not need to indefinitely postpone - its imposition of attacks on pay and conditions. If this was an attempt to appear 'reasonable', it appeared to fail spectacularly, as text messages condemning the union continued to wing their way to the BBC. A bit more assertiveness and a bit less grovelling would go a long way.

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