Sunday, 15 April 2012

Government Should Learn Lessons from Trade Unions in Conflict Resolution

So how was the fuel crisis for you?  You know, the one that the government started, with its bizarre, inflammatory rhetoric, while Unite, the tanker drivers' trade union, quietly and responsibly went about their business of consulting their members on a worst-case scenario, while negotiating a deal that wasn't primarily about pay or conditions, but one about training, conditions of service and the instigation of health and safety regulations designed to keep the public safe.

The spectacle of drivers queueing for hours on forecourts to drain every last drop of petrol from rural petrol stations is one that is bemusing at the best of times for pedestrians like myself, but at a time when there is no petrol shortage and when there can legally be no strike for at least a further week, it is a jaw-dropping sight.  When I see Government ministers like Francis Maude advising people to fill jerrycans with petrol and keep them in their houses (advice swiftly retracted once the Fire Brigade Unions pointed out that this was a fire risk and an obviously bad idea), I find myself wondering if the people in charge of our country have any practical knowledge or skills whatsoever.

Make no mistake, the government is itching for a strike so it can have a 'Thatcher Moment' and be seen to clamp down hard on unions.  However, it's rather difficult for a government of incompetence to pick a fight with an organisation that is instead focusing on doing its job.  Nick Dennis from Unite diplomatically described the government's stance as 'unhelpful' but I'm sure that he could have, had he been pressed, found a dozen other words that described the government's involvement in the self-created crisis more effectively.

Ed Miliband has been asked about his position with regard to strikes and has sensibly sought to avoid a position of outright support for Unite.  However, he has rather missed the opportunity to strike at the heart of the government's utter incompetence.  I remind you that Francis Maude is in charge of the Cabinet Office, whose purpose is to provide support and advice to Cabinet Ministers.  The notion that contingency planning for all possible outcomes should be something that happens quietly in the background at all times is lost on our leaders, who are ever ready with a soundbite but are able only to be reactive in times of crisis.

It is sad that at a time when the government's slogan is 'We're All In This Together' they cannot trust organisations to resolve industrial disputes through an agreed process without generating media hysteria.  I mention this only because when the hours of drivel spouted by ministers are long forgotten and the appallingly militant headlines spouted by our disgusting right-wing media are sent back to the recycling centres for responsible disposal, I am certain that a deal will be struck that will suit both sides and avert a crisis that only ever existed in the feverish minds of our supposed elites.

No comments:

Post a Comment