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RELATIONS ACT DO TO TRANSPORT?
LIVELY CONTROVERSY AT CM-SPONSORED CONFERENCE
report by John Darker
• Among the contentious subjects discussed this week at the CM-sponsored Industrial Relations Legislation conference were the future of the Road Haulage Wages Council, the possibility of re-establishing the National Negotiating Committee, the applicability of the new BRSL pay and grading structure to the entire road haulage industry, and trade union attitudes to the fitting of tachographs.
On the merits of the new law and its likely effects on road transport there were some passionate conflicts of attitude between Mr Ronald Butt, chairman of the RHA's labour relations committee and Mr Alex Kitson, general secretary of the Scottish Commercial Motormen's Union (and the TGWU's number 3 when the Scottish union merges with the TGWU).
The conference arranged by IPC Business and Industrial Training Ltd began with a joint session in which delegates from transport, construction and engineering industries heard an address by Mr Paul Bryan, MP, Minister of State, Department of Employment. Mr Bryan explained the Government's reasons for the legislation. He was followed by Mr Norman Sloan, QC. chairman of the industrial relations committee of the CBI, who gave a learned dissertation on some of the more obscure features of the Bill.
A complex Bill Mr Sloan confessed that the Bill was so complex that it was quite impossible to explain it in an hour's lecture. He reminded the audience that the Bill contained 160 sections and 90 schedules, many of which had not been adequately discussed and which had still to pass through the House of Lords. The Code of Practice—analagous to the Highway Code—which would greatly assist both sides of industry in their future attitudes, was not yet available for comment. The code had to be laid before Parliament within one year of the passing of the Act.
The transport delegates (the conference having split into three sections) heard three main speakers; Mr C. Dixon, industrial relations officer, Road Haulage Association, Mr Ronald Butt and Mr Alex Kitson. Mr Jack Wood, a fortner regional secretary of the TGWU and now actively involved in transport training affairs in Manchester, made sonic lively interjections in the course of the discussions. The 'session chairman was Sir Andrew Crichton, chairman of Overseas Containers Ltd.
Private sector affected Mr Dixon suggested that the new industrial relations legislation would concern the private sector of transport more than the State transport agencies, who had a long history of industrial conciliation and joint consultation: The private sector had not suffered a major strike for 20 years and most of its difficulties were local. By its nature road haulage was vulnerable to the action of militants who sometimes operated with complete disregard to agreements, often to the embarrassment of full-time trade union officers. Equally, employers who dealt with unofficial approaches often bothered official negotiators.
The fragmentation of the road transport industry would present difficulties, in Mr Dixon's view, for the reason that many firms were not members of the RHA and many employees were not members of any trade union. Although the Wages Council was often criticized he believed it had helped to weld the two sides of the industry together. Its abolition would create chaos unless an alternative body was set up by mutual agreement.
Stemming from the industrial relations legislation, Mr Dixon saw the following benefits; better, more explicit agreements; improved consultation; formal disciplinary procedures; more agency shop agreements; a salaried structure for supervisory and clerical staffs; sole bargaining rights for certain trade unions; stronger trade unions. In short, a more orderly approach to industrial relations would prompt more reasonable attitudes on both sides; more effective agreements would promote greater stability in the industry.
Mr Butt saw the Industrial Relations Bill as no more political than Barbara Castle's attempt to bring order out of chaos. It was important that people should try to understand the reasons why the Bill inspired such divided opinions. He had read TUC and Labour Party views on the legislation and could not understand the near-hysteria. The TUC's advertisement harked back to the days when transportation to Australia for seven years was a penalty exacted by law. The Labour Party pamphlet suggested that the legislation was tantamount to movement towards the Corporate State of Fascism, with all its grim appendages.
He saw the legislation as a major improvement offering the chance of fruitful co-operation. Budgeting would be simplified. Employers would be able to foster good relations without interference from trade unions. Today there was often trouble because shop stewards were ordered by branches to take action of which they and their members disapproved. His own shop stewards had come to him to apologise for actions they had had to take without reference to drivers.
Forced to strike Mr Butt said, apropos the recent New Year's day strike of drivers in Birmingham, that prior to the strike he had asked his men if they would be helped by a day off, as preferable to strike action embarrassing to them. They said they did not wish this, and he arranged for the company to work normally. Three days before the appointed strike day union representatives put up a notice warning that drivers must not work and that any who did would be fined at least one day's pay equivalent. "The strike happened", said Mr Butt, feelingly, "though there was no dispute between management and employees. The effect of the new legislation will be instantaneous. Such strikes will not happen again".
As regards the fitting of tachographs, Mr Butt said he had consulted his 40 drivers and explained the advantages of the instrument. There would be benefits to share with drivers and the indignity of much current enforcement action by the Ministry would be avoided. "The TGWU told drivers that it was not union policy to allow tachographs to be fitted and I was denied the possibility of using them, though one driver volunteered to do so".
Voting the union out !
If drivers were offered staff status and a productivity bonus on their own vehicle there was a risk of "branching" by the union and the blacking of the employer. After the Bill became an Act unions must realise that workers might vote to remove the union as the bargaining agent. "How refreshing to manage your business without interference", said Mr Butt. "I'm convinced my drivers would be better off, and would work shorter hours. I look forward to the passing of the Act".
The speaker said his remarks on tachographs applied to other collective agreements to which the union should be party. He did not anticipate constant reference to the Courts set up under the Act but the existence of powers would bring about a better climate. The legislation would bring both sides together round a table. Unions must accept responsibility for the actions of their officials for at present it was impossible to ensure this.
Concluding, Mr Butt said the industry should change its attitude to shop stewards, who were often unjustly maligned. They were often catapulted into the ob by their colleagues and theyreceived no training from the union in their duties. In future, the status of shop stewards would be enhanced. The Act would provide a framework in which employers and unions can negotiate without threat or counter-threat with benefit to all concerned."
A Bill about power Mr Kitson responded to Mr Butt's braodsides with equal zest The TUC's non-cooperation was very natural, he said, in view of the Government's offer of three weeks to discuss its content with the stated intention that no changes of main principles were negotiable. "This Bill is about power," said Mr Kitson. "The overall position is not as described by Mr Butt. Industrial relations are about people working together. The complex legislation is misconceived and will prove a disservice to the industry and to the country".
Nothing in the Bill would solve the problem of unofficial strikes, said Mr Kitson. Problems were solved sitting round a table and the Bill porvided no machinery to help this. Its contents contained much small print understood by no one. Opinion polls might show 63 per cent in favour but another poll showed that 63 per cent of people questioned did not understand it. He noted the formal position of noncooperation by the TUC as a result of the recent Croydon conference. He would have taken a stronger line than the TUC on some points. Trade union reactions would be within the law and he added, vehemently, "The TUC Council are not a bunch of revolutionaries; only after the pubs shut and when the sun shines would Congress chiefs lead a revolution!"
Rule books to rewrite Mr Kitson said one result of the Bill was that all union rule books would have to be re-written. Enforcement of the Bill would be very costly, involving over 1000 new civil servants "just as a starter". And when they were reinforced by the lawyers another St Christopher House would be needed to house them!
In Scotland, his union had made 38 different agreements with employers; all would carry a clause making them non-legal agreements, and this was supported by some employer bodies.
Dealing with detailed effects of the legislation, Mr Ktson said unfair practices would not easily be defined. Would the code make things clear? It would be difficult in road haulage to say that one employer's action was right and another's wrong. BRSL found the same problem when one manager sacked a man and another manager took a more lenient view of a similar action.
Mr Kitson said the unions were incensed by the provision that a worker appealing successfully against dismissal would not necessarily get his job back. He might have to sue for compensation. There were irresponsible employers in the industry who would gladly pay £2000 to get rid of a man they felt to be a trouble-maker. "I could mention plenty of such firms. If they could get way with it they would do this."
The trade unions for many years had operated the Bridlington rules to solve inter-union disputes and all such disputes had been solved between TUC Congresses. The Government was taking away this right. The legislation would produce a closed shop of the legal fraternity. Strike-breakers and blacklegs got most benefit from the Bill but the more advanced employers would be wary. "The strike breaker brings uncertainty into the depot when the lads return to work."
Scathing on Wages Council Mr Kitson was scathing in his views on the Road Haulage Wages Council, used by many employers for years as an excuse to hold wages down. He had tried to kill the Council, he said, in 1959 when he realized that many Scottish employers could afford to pay more than Wages Council rates. The niggardly increases granted by the Council when other industries were leaping ahead caused much bitterness in the industry. Wages Councils were evils that employers were prepared to live with.
As an alternative to the Bill, Mr Kitson thought the Government should have pumped a million pounds into the industry and told it to set up effective industrial relations machinery. The National Negotiating Committee should be re-established with teeth with the full support of the RHA and FTA.
Sir Andrew Crichton, an urbane and efficient chairman, said the Bill had caused more excitement than any other legislation since the 1834 Reform Bill. There were very strong feelings on both sides, as with the Reform Bill. But British legislation, unlike that of Imperial Russia, France or Germany, was constantly subject to modification. The Bill would not work out as its draftsmen intended. It was loosely drafted and over 100 amendments had not been considered. But the legislation would compel both sides to think of the real consequences of strife. "When the dust has settled the general pattern of development will continue."
Mr Jack Wood said the RHA must lose its amateur status and talk to the "ruthless professionals" in the unions. The law of the jungle that Mr Butt had referred to was not generally valid; as a trade union officer he had always stuck to agreements.
On tachographs, Mr Wood said he had always fought against them and still did. It was possible to wangle them—such as could be done, he alleged, with Servis Recorders with a hairpin or by jacking up wheels, etc. Tachographs were a "half-way" situation. He favoured the "Time value mapping" system, in which drivers had incentive to tell employers about bad deliveries. Human dignity was a factor in industrial relations.
As to the Bill, Mr Wood thought it would be difficult to operate when it came to defining responsibilities on either side. If either party had to tell the DEP whether or not a dispute was official, 80 per cent of strikes would not occur. In the old days union officials ignored unofficial strikes.
Mr Butt said he would not be a party to time value mapping, analogous to scheduling. Journeys took the time they took, not what someone said they should take. All manner of things could delay a particular trip, even rubber dust on roads on a hot day. He thought time clocks in factories were the proper comparison with tachographs.
Mr Butt challenged Mr Kitson to define his attitude if the RHA suggested that independent hauliers should negotiate a similar agreement to that of BRSL in terms of gradings related to vehicle plated weight. Mr Kitson said he could not commit the TGWU but if all RHA members would adhere to the plan there could be the basis for negotiation. There would be difficulty in Scotland where some recent agreements were more favourable and interim arrangements Would have to be worked out fairly.
Reducing job categories Mr R. N. Denby (Denby Transport) asked Mr Kitson whether he thought pay negotiations should be on a regional rather than a national basis? Mr Kitson said it was his desire that there should be a national structure of wages for every type of vehicle from 30cwt van to heavy haulage. The BRSL, negotiations had reached a stage when many categories of jobs had been reduced to five. Admittedly, the five excluded specialized heavy haulage vehicles; if these were included there might be seven categories nationally. He envisaged local bargaining supplementing a national structure.
Mr J. W. Walker (Sileock and Coiling Ltd) wanted to hear speakers' views on how the Act would help any operator wishing to fit tachographs. If an employer attempted to exploit the sole bargaining right clause the issue would still have to go to the Commission for Industrial Relations, who would be unlikely to regard the tachograph issue as relevant. Mr Walker thought the Bill would strengthen unions, and possibly increase their opposition to the fitting of tachographs.
Mr Butt said the tachograph issue was merely an example of an item included in a collective agreement. Why should not this, or any other item, be part of a voluntary agreement? It was simply a matter of democracy.
Mr Kitson described the difficulties if any employers or workers sought redress with the courts set up under the Act. It was difficult to get before existing courts-13 months was his experience in one instance. Under the Contracts of Employment Act he was pursuing 17 cases to get "notice" money out of employers; he had had no success yet. It was his conviction that if you had to take people to any court to make them do something the spirit would not be very good.