Unite has just published the report of its first ever all members’ survey and, although produced before the recent discovery of the Omicron variant, its findings reveal the reality of a sharpening industrial situation as we prepare for a post-Covid future.
It is the largest trade union survey of its kind in the UK and Ireland and provides a unique insight into the world of work during an unprecedented time
Problem of poor management
Firstly, there is evidently an issue concerning quality of management. ‘Poor management’ tops the biggest concern at work (17% of all respondents) and when the top three concerns were taken together over a third (36%) selected ‘poor management’ as one of their top three. The findings show this to be an issue across all sectors.
Further analysis is needed to explore the degree respondents mean local line management or corporate management at large. Those on higher pay and in management positions were less worried by the issue – although it was still cited by a number who directly manage others as part of their job, suggesting there is an issue around support for line managers – while those on the very lowest pay or working alone were more concerned by issues such as pay, job security and sickness policy.
Jobs, pay, conditions
After poor management, the key concerns are pay, job security, and morale and workplace culture, cited as the top concern by 12%, 11% and 10% respectively. When the top three concerns were taken together ‘morale and workplace culture’ was cited by 35%, ‘pay’ by 21%, ‘job security’ by 21% and ‘work related mental ill health and stress’ by 19%.
When asked to identify issues they had experienced in the last 12 months, ‘work related stress’ was by far the most cited issue (60% of respondents). Again, this was the case across all sectors.
Changes to work imposed without consent also featured in members’ work experiences.
21% of respondents said that this had occurred in respect of ‘restructure and reorganisation of my job’, 15% in respect of ‘changes to my contract and terms or conditions’, and 13% in respect of ‘changes to my working time’. It could be argued that these changes imposed without consent are related to the ‘poor management’ reported as the biggest concern at work.
Another illustration of the problem of ‘poor management’, not least around the issue of trust, might be said to be demonstrated when respondents were asked to select which one from four statements most accurately reflected their views about their employer.
42% said ‘the management and I have different interests, and I do not trust them to do the right thing by their employees’. However, nearly a quarter (24%) said ‘the employer and the employee are both working towards the same goal’ and a similar proportion (22%) said ‘the management and I have different interests, but I trust them to do the right thing by their employees’. 11% said ‘workers and management have no interests in common’.
When asked to select the three most effective ways for trade unions to increase power the most selected was ‘taking on hostile employers’ (40%), closely followed by ‘increasing frontline support for reps and shop stewards’ (36%) and ‘recruiting and organising new groups of workers’ (36%).
Whilst a significant proportion of Unite members want to work with responsible employers, it is also the case that a large proportion want to take on hostile and reckless employers. As always, we can talk about a trade unionism that works with good employers and fights back against the bad.
These key issues of poor management, pay, job security and work related mental health and stress combine to represent a deeper concern over a more authoritarian world of work. At the present time this is perhaps most starkly illustrated by the unscrupulous employers who have used the cover of the pandemic to ‘fire and rehire’ workers to force wage cuts and attacks on workers’ conditions. This survey’s results clearly serve to demonstrate the importance of Unite’s focus on fighting for jobs, pay and conditions.
By John Earls, Director of Research at Unite the Union
This article first appeared on the Centre for Labour and Social Studies’ (CLASS) blog on December 14, 2021.