Use of union busters = intimidation of workers
Today’s Guardian features a report on the ‘engagement’ of infamous US union busting firm the Burke Group by Derby based Cranberry Foods, on the eve of a ballot of the workforce as to whether they want their union, Unite, to be recognised by the company.
Although the use of union busters is pretty much the the norm in the US (where it is a $4 billion industry), in the UK they are used less often although there have been a few high profile cases in recent years.
While employers talk about ‘respecting the wishes of workers’ and only using companies such as the Burke Group so that their employees can make an ‘informed choice’, let us be clear, there is really only one reason why an employer would engage the Burke Group – to intimidate the workers to such a degree that they vote against their self interest and union recognition.
We know this to be true by some of the tactics that union busters use. Commonplace in many union busting campaigns are harassment and even dismissal of union activists, closed meetings of workers in which the ‘negatives’ of union recognition are discussed and even one to one discussions between workers and supervisors who are often used to convey the anti union message and ensure that the union busting comapny remains in the background.
We are more fortunate in the UK than our colleagues in the US as the Code of Practice on Unfair Labour Practices makes unlawful some of the most extreme practices, however it does allow the employer to make an alternative case to workers in respect of union recognition. This is the loop hole that lets union busters in and there is a strong case for it to be closed.
The basic principle in respect of union recognition is that if the majority of any group of employees want a union (that they have joined freely) to be recognised by their employer, then their wishes should be respected. Period. Frankly, it’s no more the business of the employer than how their workers vote in political elections.