THE BLOG
26/11/2013 03:06 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 05:59 GMT

A Decent Deal for Workers

Employee representatives would make the UK fairer for all. They would reduce the excessive salaries we have seen in recent years: energy bosses raking in millions while crippling their customers with eye-watering price rises; or bankers gambling with customers' money while raking in bonuses, despite their losses... Directors won't like it, but it is time the UK economy started working for everyone, not just the 1%.

I have been a trade unionist for decades and have lived through some of the darkest times. But I have been truly saddened over the past few months by the distrust that continues to exist between management and employees. Grangemouth was a true dark mark on industrial relations in this country, with employees being held to ransom over decisions that were made by those who had nothing to lose.

We need a better way.

Countries across the EU have mandatory systems in place to give employee representatives a place on company boards. It is a system that is good for business, good for consumers and most of all, fair for employees.

Board-level decisions have a huge impact on employees. It is obvious that they should have a say in the decision-making process. This, in turn, would help employers to make good decisions that work for everyone. Negotiations would take place before it is too late, and profit-obsessed directors may stop to think about employees as well as shareholders when signing on the dotted line.

We would see fewer days lost to strikes. Just compare Germany, which had 3.7 days lost to strike per 1000 employees in 2008, to the UK, which had 28 days lost in the same year.

Even Jim Ratcliffe, Chairman of Ineos, said what happened in Grangemouth would not have happened in Germany. He praised the good working relationship between the unions and management. But what I see in the UK is companies returning to Dickensian scenes where profit overrides everything. Is that the 21st century UK we want to live in? Or do we want our workers to have a meaningful say in their own futures, their own livelihoods?

Employees can contribute to boards in significant ways as they have a much better understanding of the shop floor. In Sweden, employee representatives said that they have become a specialist on the board, in the same way that there are specialists in accountancy or strategy. One FTSE 100 company in the UK, FirstGroup, does have employees on its board, and the outgoing Chairman, Martin Gilbert, said: "the few drawbacks are greatly outweighed by the benefits and having this two-way channel of communication has positively impacted on the running of FirstGroup".

Employee representatives would make the UK fairer for all. They would reduce the excessive salaries we have seen in recent years: energy bosses raking in millions while crippling their customers with eye-watering price rises; or bankers gambling with customers' money while raking in bonuses, despite their losses. While in Germany, the boss of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, saw his bonus for 2012 cut by 20 per cent.

German companies often place short-term shareholder dividends much lower on the list of priorities. They look towards the future and towards stronger and more stable growth. What suits the interests of employees suits the interests of the economy as a whole.

The reality is directors do not have that link to ordinary people that employee representatives may well have. They could make businesses more socially responsible in more ways that just through their own employees' rights.

Directors won't like it, but it is time the UK economy started working for everyone, not just the 1%.

But to make this happen, we need some legislation in place.

I will be leading a debate on Tuesday, calling for this to become part of the government's push towards businesses that give employees a stake in the future of the company. I will show how this isn't much different to giving tax breaks to John Lewis-style companies.

Let's see if the nasty party, that has been turning hard working people into monsters through their attacks on Unite and the gagging bill, will see that this benefits everyone.

Let's see if the nasty party can turn nice, while giving a boost to the long-term future of our economy at the same time.