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Better businesses create better jobs and those create motivated staff

One of the most interesting aspects of the work being done under the banner of the Common Weal is seeing how much common ground there is between what might be considered a trade union/workers/employee perspective and the outlook of business, commerce and industry.

Of course, there will be different priorities, but there is much more common interest than diverging ideology.

In simple terms, better businesses create better jobs, better jobs attract more motivated staff and motivated staff make for better businesses. Good jobs are in the interests of employees and their unions, better businesses are in the interests of entrepreneurs and investors. A genuinely successful economy is in all our interests.

In the Working Together report we look at the industrial relations models found across Europe, particularly Germany and Denmark. The comparison between these countries and the UK could not be more stark.

In Germany, household names such as Volkswagen, Bayer Chemicals Group, Deutsche Bank and Allianz insurance company have management boards half of which are elected by their employees. They have co-ordinating committees at plant level which manage the shop floor jointly between management and staff. They are hardly unsuccessful.

In Britain, Thatcher's anti-union laws were not only retained but strengthened through the Blair and Brown years. This appears to have damaged not only the unions but also the industrial performance of the UK, and in part will explain why UK productivity is 16% behind that of other advanced economies.

In terms of worker participation Britain scores second lowest across Europe, coming 26th out of 27th, above only Lithuania. When those nations are scored in relation to such things as GDP per head, labour productivity, research and development, greenhouse gas reduction and other measures, the countries with strong worker participation rights all score better than those without.

By alienating and excluding workers and trades unions from workplace decision-making, the UK is actually damaging the very industrial base that the anti-trade union legislation purports to protect. We do not advocate a switch to unbridled trade union control but wish to emphasise the advantages of working in an environment where the interests of the parties can be used to develop mutually beneficial solutions and produce a symbiotic relationship.

The report highlights the very real benefits of a more collegiate and collaborative approach and shows that this can be done and can be successful.

The fact that Scotland as a nation is currently considering how it might approach its future makes this an ideal time to move both unions and business out of their current positions and have them both, along with Scottish Government support, take on more of the responsibility for creating a more engaging, more positive and more productive form of industrial relations.

John Duffy is Scottish secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, and works with the Jimmy Reid Foundation

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