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‘Taking back control’

Unite members successfully confront Brexit challenges in the workplace
Ryan Fletcher, Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Major new research shows that Unite members are working together to successfully confront the challenges Brexit is presenting in workplaces up and down the country.


Despite widespread political and public division over the UK’s relationship with the EU, the academic research found Unite members putting aside a plethora of views on Brexit to collectively combat industrial problems related to the issue.


The research, based on 50 in-depth interviews with Unite reps across all sectors and regions, shows that Brexit uncertainty has affected almost all of them.


Of those interviewed, 60 per cent reported having been directly affected by at least one issue linked to Brexit, while 34 per cent said that their employer is using Brexit opportunistically.


Another 10 per cent reported a direct impact of Brexit not attributed to opportunism.


Examples of employer opportunism include using Brexit uncertainty to cast doubt on future pay deals, to delay pay negotiations, offer a reduced pay deal, to increase agency workers over full time employment, or to suggest that they will remove Unite reps’ involvement in European Works Councils (EWCs).


One workplace rep for bus drivers in the South West described how his firm attempted to use Brexit to resist a pay increase, saying, “The central justification was that they couldn’t project with any certainty in relation to revenue and whether Brexit would have a negative impact on the local economy.”


As a result of a threat of strike action, the company eventually capitulated and offered the deal the reps had fought for, which was unanimously accepted by the membership.


Similar fight backs against Brexit-linked attacks on pay and other aspects of industrial relations were reported in the interviews.


Lead author and University of Portsmouth researcher, Andrew Waterman, said, “The one constant that remained throughout the research was that Unite reps and members were confronting Brexit uncertainty head-on and in many cases winning.


“We found examples of reps securing pay increases and maintaining collective bargaining agreements in the face of employer opportunism that sought to attack previous gains.


“By treating Brexit as an industrial issue and refusing to be swayed by the political climate, reps and members have been able to stand up to these attacks.”


The report puts forward a number of recommendations for workplace reps to mobilise members and get ahead of any Brexit issues.


These include using agreements to demand information on, and input into, any employer Brexit plans, exposing Brexit opportunism, securing protections and Brexit proof wages in pay talks and other bargaining opportunities and supporting migrant workers.


Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “Brexit cannot be something which will just happen to us or be imposed from above. How it is experienced is something we can and must proactively shape, irrespective of the attempts to divide us.


“Above all else the findings (from this research) show that unity on the everyday industrial questions that matter to working people triumphs over the politics of division.”


Read the full report here.


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