HR departments prepare to cower as strikes loom?

More than half of HR people don't feel confident dealing with unions. Tell that to those at the BBC...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 08 Nov 2010
As recent events at Transport for London, the BBC and the Fire Service have proven, industrial action is on the rise within UK plc - and there are bound to be more on the way, as the Government cuts kick in. And if some new research is anything to go by, HR teams are seriously nervous about it. According to a survey by YouGov (for consultancy Croner), more than half say they’ve never had any experience dealing with union wrath – and they're worried they won't be able to cope. Admittedly the BBC lot seem confident enough, judging by their unflinching response to their ongoing strike - but when you employ 10 of the UK's highest-paid HR staff, you'd kind of hope that would be the case...

According to the survey, of 301 senior HR people, HR departments nationwide are bracing themselves for industrial action. One in five is expecting a strike in the next six months, and 20% of those think it will have a ‘huge impact’ on their organisation. There also seems to be a real lack of knowledge about the process: 63% say they know ‘little or nothing’ about the laws surrounding trade unions, and 40% say they don’t feel confident dealing with strikes. So if industrial action does take place, expect to find your HR department cowering under their desks...

That said, the BBC’s ‘head of people’ Lucy Adams seemed pretty confident this morning as she discussed the ongoing strikes by the corporation’s journalists. Today programme enthusiasts (MT included) were thrown on Friday morning when instead of the sound of John Humphrys joshing some unsuspecting politician, they awoke to the gentle chirruping of a documentary entitled 'Birds on the Wash'. That was thanks to a 48-hour walkout by National Union of Journalists members, who object to changes being made to the BBC pension scheme (intended to help Aunty reduce its estimated £1.5bn deficit). The BBC managed to keep going, though: lesser-known presenters and even BBC managers stepped into their absent colleagues’ shoes to read news bulletins, while some presenters, including Today’s Sarah Montague and Evan Davis, even crossed picket lines to get to work.

Adams was taking a hard line with the Beeb’s disgruntled hacks in a Today programme interview this morning, though. NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear pointed out that since the actual pension fund deficit hasn’t even been calculated yet, how can the BBC possibly know what sort of deal to offer workers? But Adams stood firm on the deal, which has already been agreed with all Auntie's other unions (including Bectu and Unite). ‘We have said there is no more money on the table,’ she insisted.

That said, her ‘no more money’ argument was rather undermined when presenter Sarah Montague pointed out that the BBC has 10 of the 20 most highly-paid HR people in the country among its ranks. And given her £300k+ salary, you'd hope Adams would be more than adequately trained in dealing with disgruntled trade unions...

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