Tuesday, 4 March 2008
Workin' for the man every night and day....
There are yet more changes afoot at work. The new owners are doing some shuffling of the legal entities and, to cut a long story short, almost everyone who works here has been put under consultation with a view to being transferred into the new legal entities. This is purely a formality, they tell us, and we mustn't worry ourselves about it. In fact, although the normal TUPE period is several months, if everyone is in agreement, perhaps we could speed that up, just to get it all out of the way? Yes? Most people believe them and aren't much bothered, but this is the fifth time in the last five years that I have been put under consultation with a view to a transfer of the undertakings and protection of employment - TUPE to you and me. I'm apparently far less trusting than most people. Perhaps I am worrying too much, but is it really sensible to entirely trust to the altrusitic motives of a bunch of cut-throat capitalists out to line their own pockets? Do we really believe that they invested (literally) billions of pounds in this company and are going to care greatly about the fluffier side of people management, even if it costs them money that they might otherwise be able to save? TUPE law protects my contractual terms and conditions, so things like my basic salary and holiday will be protected by law, but I know through experience that lots of the other benefits associated with anyone's employment are non-contractual and can thus be legally changed or removed in this kind of transfer. For instance, although my employers are obliged to continue to offer me a pension by law, they are not actually obliged to offer me the same kind of pension... thus I could lose my (increasingly rare) final salary pension, as well as a pile of other stuff. Maybe I've got nothing to worry about, and everything will stay just the same, but there's got to be no harm in going through the consultation process properly to make sure, is there?
I made the mistake of mentioning this in a team meeting the other week, and so now I have the distinct pleasure of being the Employee Representative for about 800 people in my part of the business in the TUPE negotiations. I had to be elected and everything, and there were ballot papers and padlocked ballot boxes and all sorts.... although it was interesting to note that the majority of the other areas of the business didn't bother to nominate a representative at all, apparently happy to let this thing drift through. Still, luckily for them, I suppose they only need one good person representing their interests and they should be okay, eh? I was not exactly keen to stand, but I found myself talking passionately about what could happen and being met by blank faces, so rather than trust in someone else to represent me, I thought perhaps I should do it for myself.
The employee representatives were announced on the company intranet last week, and one interesting by-product of this is that I am apparently now being seen as a pillar of the establishment - another clear demonstration that people here don't know what the role is about. The employee rep role is actually about standing up for the employees in order to protect them from changes that the company is trying to force upon them. I'm sure it won't come to this, but this is a role that could lead to conflict with the new owners. I am putting my head above the parapet, but I am hardly doing so in a way likely to ingratiate myself. Apparently it is not seen like this by most people, and some of C's colleagues remarked that she must be proud to be married to such a company man, a pillar of the community. They asked her if I would also be putting myself forward as a trustee for the pension fund (which also sent out nomination forms a couple of weeks ago). When she told me this, I assumed they must have been taking the piss.... but apparently they were in deadly earnest: someone who puts himself forward to be an employee rep is the kind of person who would put themselves forward to be a trustee of the pension.
Good grief. Has it really come to this?
Rest assured though, this revolution will not be televised.
Just call me Citizen Swiss from now on. Power to the people!