Yes. We have a lot of potentially dangerous industries in our area. The ones I tend to deal with have been around for a long time. They all have long-standing recognition agreements with trade unions, and excellent safety records as a result. It is a learning process, not an adversarial process, particularly in health and safety.
Some companies ought to take a leaf out of those employers’ books and learn how to treat and to deal with employee representatives in a much more reasonable and engaging way. A number of employers behave despicably, adding to employees’ fears about victimisation, which leaves many individuals not wanting their employers to know that they belong to a trade union. How sad is that? How damning is it that some companies are so vindictive to their staff that their employees will not tell them that they belong to a trade union?
Only last week I met a constituent who told me what it was like in his workplace, where unions are not welcome, where arbitrary decisions are made about who is retained and who is let go, and where all the workers are too worried to put their head above the parapet. I hope to discuss my concerns with the company in due course, but does it really need a Member of Parliament to remind an employer of how to treat its staff? If a trade union official was allowed access to the site, they would be able to do that, and in the end everybody would benefit—the workers and the company. At the moment they are locked out, which is simply not good enough. It is shocking that these kinds of things still take place in the 21st century.
What is the point of someone having the right to join a trade union if they cannot exercise that right because an employer refuses to engage? What is the point of their being a trade union member if they cannot be represented? I have lost count of the number of times companies have lied to employees about their right to be accompanied by trade union reps at disciplinary or grievance hearings by saying that, because the company does not recognise a particular trade union, those unions do not have the right to attend the hearings. The Government should clamp down on that.
We have a culture of weak employment rights, greedy corporations and a Government that obstruct trade unions. We need to get away from that and towards a period of renewal and rebuilding of one of the pillars of a decent society: job security. Without job security, people have no security. How can they plan for their future, for a home or for their family if the labour market is so cut-throat, so insecure and so parasitic that they are always just one step away from disaster? The stabilising force of trade unions is a vital component of a decent society.
“Rights” is not a dirty word. Rights are not only about individual dignity and respect in the workplace; they give people a stake in society, when they know that if they do a good job and their employer runs the business well, they will be rewarded. We need an economy —and a country—where everyone has a stake in its prosperity, but to do that we must have a system that values the security and sustainability of a job itself as much as the principle of job creation. Good employers want to work with unions, and in an ideal world all employers would be able to do so without the need for the legislation that we have talked about.