UK: My best deal - Bill Jordan, president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. (1 of 2)

UK: My best deal - Bill Jordan, president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. (1 of 2) - Ever since he was elected president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU), Bill Jordan's personal crusade has been shorter working hours for his members. Gain

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Ever since he was elected president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU), Bill Jordan's personal crusade has been shorter working hours for his members. Gaining acceptance for a 37-hour week was, he told Chris Blackhurst, an unqualified success in that it proved the relevance of unions and their ability to improve working lives.

Brother H Scanlon, Brother T Duffy, B Jordan. The plaques lining the walls of the Amalgamated Engineering Union's headquarters in Peckham, south London, show at an instant that the current AEU president, Bill Jordan, is different from his predecessors. Not for Jordan the traditional socialist soubriquet of "brother".

When commentators talk of a new breed of union leader, they invariably point to the smartly dressed, boyish-looking (he is 56 in January) head of Britain's second biggest union. In March he will have completed five years as AEU president. But his re-election is not certain.

Colleagues have voiced disquiet about his overtures to Eric Hammond of the electricians' union (he failed to persuade the AEU's national committee to vote in favour of a merger of the two unions last year) and his growing influence outside the union (he is a governor of the BBC and the London School of Economics). The chances are, though, that Jordan will be returned for a second term. For that he has to thank what he describes as "the biggest union victory of the last 10 years" - the implementation in much of British industry of a shorter working week.

So far more than 1,300 companies employing a third of a million workers have reduced their standard week from 39 to 37 hours. Such has been its runaway success that Jordan chooses the shorter hours campaign as his best deal.

Ever since he was elected president in 1986, Bill Jordan has made a reduced working week his personal crusade. "If Britain has a major problem it is its poorly trained management," he says. According to Jordan, that weakness expresses itself in a variety of ways but one of the most common is the use of overtime.

Having worked in a factory (GKN near Birmingham), he knows all too well "that the pace of modern production techniques is so demanding". But, he adds: "While the pace has increased, the hours have not changed." In demanding fewer hours, Jordan stresses that he is only following the example of Europe, where a 35-hour week is commonplace.

In Britain the 13-union strong Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions took up the cause and opened discussions with the Engineering Employers' Federation. As head of the largest CSEU member, Jordan's voice carried most weight.

In return for a two-hour reduction in the working week, Jordan and his colleagues were prepared to offer "the dream of many managers - single-table bargaining in all multi-union establishments". In addition: "At a time when there is a chronic shortage of skills we offered them a joint training programme." But all that the EEF was prepared to offer was a 37.5-hour week - provided that certain conditions were met: the reduction was deducted from wages, and management could demand overtime whenever it wanted and it could alter, without notice, starting and finishing times.

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