Discipline at work and the case for a learning culture

The latest UnionDays instalment looks at the mainstay of any rep’s day-to-day work: Casework. And particularly conduct cases.

So allow me to introduce you to the unfortunate and the miscreant…..

There’s Stan, who allegedly stole a truly worthless old phone kiosk and Josie, bullied by a Stalin of a boss. Meet the Helpdesk Advisor whom management was sure was leaking confidential customer information, All in a typical day’s work. All kept their jobs…thanks to the union!

But in some cases the stakes are higher.  In a labyrinthine and long-running case of a rep/manager relationship gone sour,  we did eventually muddle our way to a compromise.

Convulsions along the road

But looking back the length of time it all took, the convulsions along the road to a resolution, seem unbelievable. Why did not the employer act decisively and dismiss our member – or call our bluff in terms of the disruption to service our members’ withdrawal of labour would cause? 

In a strange way, it reflected the mature, robust but ultimately solution-oriented approach to Industrial Relations that existed. It may not have been in any sort of management textbook – but patience and perseverance were undoubtedly better than a parallel car crash in IR and performance that was the alternative.

And in the traumatic aftermath of a (fortunately very rare) fatal accident, and  consistent with a learning culture, we quickly agreed to amend the conduct code to take into account situations where employees were faced with a statutory duty to cooperate with enforcement authorities, irrespective of the employer’s preferences. 

Consciously and constructively negotiated arrangements

I guess the Whistleblowing Act takes care of any similar sorts of contradictions now, but so much better to have consciously and constructively negotiated arrangements than to rely on a default, statutory position.

I believe that in these more difficult and delicate cases, the commitment to look for the learning points beyond the specific details of the case is even more important.

Transformational Culture

There are many reasons why. Most obviously it is something of a stress test for the restorative approach discussed so ably by David Liddle in his book Transformational Culture. Actively seeking out positives in what can be an intense and fraught situation takes determination, patience and self-confidence – on the part of both the key stakeholders, namely union and employer. But each time this happens, it can strengthen the relationship.

It’s no secret that most of my trade union life was spent in the Communication Workers’ Union and BT were most frequently on the other side of the negotiating table.  I do believe that the values based approach I saw in many managers at all levels in the company was a long lasting legacy of the company’s state-owned history.

Now before you castigate me for rosy-eyed retrospection,  I will be the first to accept that there were at least as many bad as good – and you can hear about some of those on the podcast.

BT’s communications problem

But how much worse is the corporate culture of BT now?  That’s why the union has secured a huge mandate for industrial action that covers Openreach as well (A ballot of EE members saw over 90% vote in favour but the turnout was “only” 49.7%, and 50 % is required for legal industrial action)*.  With the company seemingly refusing to meet the CWU,  it looks like the first national strike since 1987 is close to inevitable.  Not the best of looks for a communications company. 

*If readers can point to any other situation in which a 50% turnout is required to validate a ballot result, please do let me know!

You can access this and all episodes of UnionDays at https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/uniondays/id1623844997?i=1000570546839

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