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Employee Relations and the role of ACAS

Watch this to focus on the issues of employee relations for Higher Business (and why striking Fire Fighters is very bad)

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Imagine calling the police or ambulance service only to be told there was no-one available to come to you right now...terrifying! And potentially life threatening. This actually happened, to a certain extent, during late 2002 into 2003 when the fire brigade went on strike across the UK.

Events like this are often triggered by disputes between large groups of employees and those in management positions and commonly involve pay and working conditions. Sometimes, where the two groups are unable to agree on a resolution to the conflict, external institutions will become involved in the process.

For Higher Business, two examples that you need to be aware of are trade unions and ACAS.

So let’s negotiate

this is ThinkFour.

The fire brigade strike twenty years ago was mostly over pay. The FBU [on screen text 1] initially demanded a 40% pay rise for firefighters. Government authorities offered a mere 4% increase leading to drivers on roads outside fire stations across the country honking the horns in their cars in support of the striking employees.

The FBU is an example of a trade union. As there are thousands of firefighters in the country, much like nurses and teachers, these employees do not individually negotiate their contracts of employment which include pay. This is done for them by union bodies like the FBU, in a process known as Collective Bargaining.

The negotiating power of the trade union is directly linked to the size of its employee membership. Negotiation of contractual terms and conditions is a key union activity but members like firefighters can also speak to union representatives for advice on things like pensions or disciplinary issues.

The total opposite of the collective bargaining process are the players on a professional football team. The players, or rather their agents, do individually negotiate their contracts and pay. So, the players on the team are all paid differently.

Whether it’s the world of professional sports or the firefighter pay dispute, sometimes the two parties just can’t reach an agreement. When this happens, and especially when there’s the real threat of industrial action such as a strike, a government funded organisation known as ACAS may be engaged to step in.

This means Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and it has three main functions. One is to offer impartial advice and even training to both parties in the dispute with a view to reaching a compromise. Two is to conciliate, this is similar to refereeing or mediating, again with the aim of helping both sides reach an understanding. Three is arbitration, this is when both sides of the dispute engage ACAS to make a final decision, based on evidence, which both parties agree to abide by. While one side may be left unhappy, this does prevent the matter from going to court and potentially becoming very expensive.

After much negotiation and months of strike action, the FBU eventually agreed on a pay increase of 16% for firefighters, which happened incrementally over a period of three years.

Back in 2002, the strike situation was so desperate that the UK government activated branches of the armed forces to respond to emergency calls in a step known as Operation Fresco. Imagine calling 999 for a fire at your house, only to see a vintage 1950’s era fire engine, known as a Green Goddess, roll up to your front door. It really happened!

There are several elements to the Employee Relations topic of the Management of Human Resources unit at Higher. The role of external institutions is just one part of this but a very specific area nonetheless which contains some distinct terminology.

Do your homework on the detail and make sure you’re equipped to negotiate this topic.

this was ThinKFour, thanks for watching

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