Collaboration not confrontation?

COMMENT: Around the world port labour reforms are in train. There are not many locations where such reforms are undertaken on a proactive basis; it usually involves legislative change and grinding out a solution between employers and unions often with some sort of mediation in-between. As is now the case in Spain, writes Mike Mundy.

It is oh-so-predictable that in the case of the vast majority of port unions facing industry reforms that their first reaction is to adopt a confrontational stance. Some might argue it is natural but so too is the necessity of introducing new labour arrangements to keep pace with modern logistic system requirements and to promote competitiveness overall. On the same basis, this is why the steam engine is no longer in vogue and gas is no longer used as a sedation method in tooth extraction - modernisation!


Achieving the widespread introduction of port labour reforms is, however, invariably comparable on the pain scale to extracting teeth without anaesthetic. But does it need to be?


In an era when union membership generally is in decline, there are more legal constraints on unions, and market factors such as the advent of globalisation and the rise of competition outside the immediate local environment is there not a big incentive on the part of unions to take a proactive, collaborative approach to port reforms as opposed to a confrontational one? The tin mines in Cornwall did not last forever, coal mining in the UK is defunct, the US is no longer a source of cotton production and manufacturing, and so on. Change is inevitable so why not embrace it and aim to play a positive part in protecting member interests via this route?


In many other industry sectors, there are numerous examples of positive collaboration between unions and employers on a proactive basis which has helped to secure employment and boost earnings potential. A few simple examples are: workplace learning and development; joint Learning Committees to facilitate the introduction of new technology; and generally promoting win:win scenarios through positive collaboration between HR staff and union representatives.


Time for collaboration not confrontation.


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