Senior Labour MP, Angela Eagle emphasised the positive effect that trade unions have on the workplace, at Prospect’s fringe event, organised with think tank the Smith Institute and the High Pay Centre.
Eagle highlighted the need to reverse the decline in trade union membership. She highlighted statistics showing that 87% of people in the private sector do not have trade unions in the workplace, a situation that urgently needs to be reversed.
Eagle also challenged the meeting to make trade unions relevant and accessible to young people – by using more accessible language and addressing contract workers as well as employees.
She argued that both the Labour Party and the trade union movement had to tackle these issues to deliver “happier and healthier” workplaces.
Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary said having a plan to engage employers must be a key part of any trade union’s mission.
He emphasised that trade unions engage with good, as well as poor employers, working with all of them to improve workplaces.
He highlighted work in Prospect and BECTU to engage with, and represent, freelance workers. This is showing how collective bargaining can be good for employers as well as employees in all types of sectors.
He also described work being done by trade unions in Sweden, where they are emphasising that they are there to improve working lives as well as providing help when members are in distress. “We need to be there through the full life cycle of work,” he said.
He called for Labour to back calls for:
- employers with more than 250 workers to have a duty to recognise collective bargaining or a collective voice for their workers
- legal rights for trade union access to workplaces and
- legally binding collective agreements.
Deborah Hargreaves, from the High Pay Centre, said unions need to do more to appeal to young people, including increasing the diversity of trade union spokespeople.
She said workers were needed on company boards and remuneration committees to “inject common sense thinking” on skyrocketing executive pay.
Tim Thomas, speaking on behalf of EEF, the manufacturer’s organisation, said: “Our members want to work with our workers to build better businesses.”
Statistics show that better workforce organisation could lead to a 23% gain in productivity, he said. He believed that better and more successful businesses have trade union partnerships.
The audience asked questions on:
- what unions themselves can do to appeal to the under-30s
- how unions can use new digital technology to support workers
- repealing anti-trade union legislation
- the role of industrial action
- how policy can make it easier to achieve collective bargaining, and
- whether teaching about trade unions should be included in the school curriculum.
As a politically independent trade union, Prospect will be following up our events at the Liberal Democrat and Labour party conferences with events at the Conservative and Scottish National Party conferences.
Mike Clancy closed the meeting by saying that we need a “union positive national culture” and we must take pride in trade unions and union membership into all areas of society.