Unite has hit back against Manchester-based Co-op Insurance for its decision to sell the business to a known union-busting firm Markerstudy, which will entail the loss of 200 jobs, with the remaining 800 staff left without trade union recognition.
Markerstudy has already stated that it will not engage with trade union representatives, leaving hundreds of workers who come from a heavily unionised workforce with no union voice in their workplace at a time when they need representation more than ever.
Unite North West finance and legal sector officer Helen Camp highlighted why Unite was launching a campaign to ensure the Manchester-based Co-op Insurance staff retain trade union recognition when the workforce is transferred to the new company this month, and that no compulsory redundancies are made.
“Despite being recognised for many years by the Co-op and having a constructive relationship which has resulted in good terms and conditions, and positive outcomes in difficult scenarios over the years, as part of the consultation process, we’ve been made aware that Markerstudy intend to serve notice to terminate the recognition agreement with Unite at the point of transfer,” she said.
“This is absolutely unacceptable and we’ve written to Markerstudy making our position very clear. We perceive this as an attack on Unite our union and upon the rights of our members and will use all legal, industrial and political options open to protect the rights and interests of our members. We urge the Co-op to do everything possible to support the continued recognition agreement for the transferring workforce.”
Camp highlighted the fact that Co-op uses the hashtag #ItsWhatWeDo and claims to represent community and fairness and care about the world.
“That is what Unite do. We protect the rights and jobs of our members and we’ll do everything in our power to achieve this.”
Indeed, the Co-operative Group, of which Co-op Insurance is a part, has a long history of trading on its ethical credentials. It’s championed Fairtrade in the UK, invested in renewable energy and local community initiatives, publicly campaigned on many social issues and has committed to high standards of animal welfare.
The Group also operates a mutual structure where it is supposed to operate for the benefit of its members, ordinary people instead of wealthy shareholders, who can vote in the Group’s AGM. Politically it is affiliated to the Co-operative Party and is a major donor. The Party has links to the labour movement and fields candidates on joint tickets with the Labour Party.
Even on its own website, the Co-operative Group lists its many values as ‘solidarity’, ‘democracy’ and ‘equality’, among others.
This is why Unite believes Co-op Insurance selling the business to a known union-busting hedge-fund funded firm is totally at odds with its stated values, Unite North West regional secretary Ritchie argued.
“The sale of Co-op Insurance to an organisation which intends to de-recognise Unite the union is outrageous and beyond belief,” he said.
“Trade unions and the Co-operative movement have a long and rich history which has ensured positive industrial relations for many years. The suggestion that employee voices in Manchester can be silenced through a sale to Markerstudy is inconceivable,” he continued.
“The Co-op cannot hide away from the consequences of their decision to sell to such an organisation. Ahead of the sale Unite has made it clear to both parties that trade union recognition is not on the table. The union will not stand aside and will continue to fight to make sure our members within Co-op Insurance are protected and treated fairly.”
Unite national officer for finance Rob MacGregor agreed.
“Has Co-op Insurance forgotten its principles in the rush to make a quick buck?” he said. “This insurance company has long traded on its ethics and yet is now driving a coach and horses through the values of the Co-operative movement. There is only one word for this proposed sale, immoral.
“Unite will not accept this attack on our members’ rights for a voice at work. How can the Co-op agree to sell its workforce to an aggressive union busting organisation with no regard to its founding ethos?”
The TUPE transfer of the workforce is due to take place during August. Unite has written to both Co-op Insurance and Markerstudy setting out objections to the loss of trade union recognition within this sale. Unite will oppose every compulsory redundancies that this sale will bring and protect our members’ terms and conditions.
By Hajera Blagg