I will be looking at whether union organised workplaces are far more efficient than that of a workplace without. There is certainly scope to this question. For instance, whilst many companies and business do have a working union actively helping to keeping workplaces safe and to the law, there are plenty that will bend and not abide by the rules. The effects of this would not just damage the company alone but essentially the worker or workforce, being put into dangerous situations from ill health to long-term sickness and in the worst-case situation, death.
Just having a general browse on the internet, there are many cases to be found which highlight issues ranging from small claims due to minor injuries caused by for instance broken fingers trapped in fridge doors to major which has actually resulted in a death or many deaths.
By examining some of the evidence we can start to work on the theory that there may be some truth to the question. looking at the 2015 ‘Smiler’ crash at Alton Towers, this alone is clear evidence of company mishandlings, including a huge breech in health and safety regulations and mis-management as well as failing to train staff and engineers . This just goes to show the consequences of what can happen if you allow the high management the freedom of cutting corners and very probably for a small profit. Does this mean that the company (Merlin Entertainments) had full control with a small union or no union input, or did they go it alone and just not think of the consequences which eventually came to be?
According to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) ‘The Union Effect’, ‘In 1995 a group of researchers analysed the relationship between worker representation and industrial injuries in British Manufacturing. It found that those employers who had trade union health and safety committees had half the injury rate of those employers who managed safety without unions or joint arrangements.
In 2007 the same authors once again found lower injury rates in workplaces with trade union representation. The effects were deemed to be significant, by contrast the effect of management alone deciding on health and safety was not significant.
This research would suggest, that yes, a union organised workplace is more efficient than those that have management alone. But does that reasoning to which it is the management with a strong union representation reap the rewards?.
It is considered to a company that does not recognise a union, say in this instance ‘Amazon’, that unions will hold the company back from wanting to make profits, reduce productivity with red tape and dictating the way in which the employer will pay its workforce. This in turn applies to Health and safety issues. The more a company has to obey and apply, the more it sees its profits dwindle. The options are to just get away with as little changes as possible, have the basic health and safety it deems necessary, have as much influence it can on the workforce and make the greatest profit margin. It is also important to stress that Amazon’s clear objectives are known with headlines from the likes of ‘The Guardian’ and ‘The Coventry Telegraph’ quoting on issues like ‘Amazon ordered to explain how 600 staff were injured at work’. and as well as ‘Union stages final protest over ‘horrific’ Amazon work practices’. This shows an obvious link with a clear intent what workers are dealing with within the workplace. It’s a typical method of how a large organisation not working with a union compromises its workforce and disregards health and safety issues.
This Would in turn lead to more ill health and injuries in the workplace. A case study on www.staysafeapp.com reported ;- ‘Earlier this year a Diamond Box maintenance employee was injured when he was pulled into machinery during a repair. An investigation into the evidence found that the packaging company allowed uncontrolled maintenance work to take place without a risk assessment, and no procedures in place for safe maintenance. The investigation by HSE found that the machine had a ‘jog mode’ which could have been set up to allow maintenance work to be carried out safely but the company had not identified this, trained staff to use it or enforced it’s use. The business was fined £400,000 with £9886.04 of costs. The lack of safe systems being implemented or communicated to their employees meant that Diamond Box put their employees at risk and allowed a dangerous and entirely avoidable accident to occur’.
On the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website ( http://www.hse.gov.uk) there are examples of incompetent handlings from employers which have resulted in large injuries, and even death due to taking matters into their own hands. One example being – ‘A kitchen worker slipped and fell, resulting in fractures to her skull, meaning they are unlikely to work again. The employer was prosecuted and ordered to pay over £36,000 including prosecution costs. During the hearing, the District Judge stated. “This was a very serious accident, one which was wholly preventable. Every employer has a duty under law to protect its employees from physical harm, something that [the company] blatantly failed to do. There had been four similar accidents in the kitchen during the previous 12 months, yet they still failed to act.”
So, as you can see the evidence is certainly mounting up against the un-unionised employer with an ‘unwanted union’ in a workplace, the ‘busybody’ of the workplace and the in some management theories, the ‘parasite’ of the employer. It certainly seems the ‘Bad Ol Union’ shouldn’t interfere with important matters at hand like profit, low pay, no breaks and the ‘least important’ health and safety matters. As long as the work is done and with little expense then they will continue down that path. The consequences will no doubt be in the long run, a catastrophe to the employer, and more importantly to the workforce.
If no Health and Safety Representatives were on guard to help tighten control and well-being within the work place the damage or injuries could seriously mount up. This in turn would cause the employee to have issues arising from: – Workplace stress, Mental health issues, Minor injuries, long term sickness, And even death.
To put a further point across, the non-unionised employer’s headaches would mount up even more if serious breaches on Health and safety were met by the long arm of the law. The ‘Poor’ employer and higher management would certainly be in lines of a hefty fine for failing to comply with essential legislation, a criminal record and even a prison sentence.
So, is it really worth the aggravation just to make a profit you could loose and even endanger lives? I personally think not.
Looking on from the downfalls there are certainly great areas which can help improve and even enhance the workplace as a whole. Referencing back to the TUC ‘The Union effect, section 4, the TUC noted the following in their findings: – ‘We also know that union involvement makes a real difference in the workplace. There have been a wide range of case studies that have shown the benefits of union involvement in health and safety. Here are just a couple examples:
After a critical HSE inspection at Bristol City Council Parking services in 2008 the employers and management developed a plan which included giving full-time release to one of the safety representatives, reviewing risk assessments, better training, and new communication equipment. The fall in sickness absence, reduction in incidents of violence against staff and increase staff moral are estimated to have save the employer over £36,000 in the first year alone..
Following three prosecutions, Heinz, the food company, reorganised their safety management system and involved safety representatives in all aspects of risk assessment and accident investigation. Reportable accidents have decreased by over 50%
Within Tesco, union safety representatives raised an issue of the width of one type of checkout which was causing health problems. In new stores a totally new type of checkout is used which was designed with union involvement from scratch and which helps to greatly reduce injuries among checkout staff.
So, what can we conclude to the main question? Having union representation opens up whole new perspectives to help management and the workforce deal with unnecessary and unwanted issues. Having a union presence also means that management are always challenged and kept to the legislation and acts of parliament, of which they must conform to.
A union health and safety representative will certainly have gained the knowledge and skills through educational training, the backing from senior union representatives, and the backing also by the law itself. On top of that, the workforce will certainly back a union, who’s focus will be for the welfare and well-being of every member it represents to a high standard.
My final conclusion is that unions do make a huge difference to the reduction of injuries and ill health in the workplace, they can change a culture within an organisation to make a better productive and efficient environment for not just the workforce but for management as well.