Hello PPMA members and friends,

I have been reflecting this week on how much I personally value partnership working with our trade unions and what its future as a way of working in the public sector might be in the current climate of cuts and job insecurity. This was prompted by the news of the retirement of a senior trade union representative who I had the privilege of working with some years ago. Through him and others, I was fortunate to see at first hand the value of partnership working with trade unions early in my career. This has stayed with me and for me it goes hand in hand with effective employee engagement.

It is surprising how many people see partnership working as “the soft option”, that it might be a bit too “cosy” and a barrier to tackling difficult issues.

Like many of our activities in HR though, “the soft stuff is the hard stuff”! Successful partnership working requires taking time to understand each other’s views and perspectives. It demands a culture of trust and transparency, of preparedness to suspend judgment and listen carefully to an alternative point of view. It relies on sustained joint commitment to partnership working even where there is disagreement on particular issues.

In my own organisation I am pleased that we have a strong track record of partnership working that has been developed over a number of years. The practical things we do to support and sustain that include:
· Open and timely mutual exchange of information, underpinned by agreement that there will be “no surprises”
· Regular informal discussions
· Frank exchange of views
· Recognising and discussing the opposing pressures that can potentially undermine our working relationships

Levels of unionisation vary across the public sector and across different employee groups. Public Sector Trade Unions though, share a particular aim and that is to protect public services. This focus on the maintenance of levels of public services alongside representing the interests of their members makes sustaining partnership working today particularly challenging.

The level of budget cuts across the public sector is driving employers to consider things they never have before: fundamental changes to terms and conditions of service; pay reductions; some temporary measures, but some more permanent; some through agreement with trade unions, some through imposition. Alongside this, the budget cuts and public sector policy changes are having a combined impact on levels of service provision. Hardly surprising then that partnership working in some parts of the public sector is under threat.

Trade Unions have an important part to play in employee engagement-as employee representatives they are part of our employee voice. So how do we square the circle? There are no easy answers here, but at organisational level it is imperative that we continue to do all we can to maintain positive working relationships, to recognise and discuss the opposing pressures we face. The greatest danger is that we all retreat to more adversarial positions and we would all be the poorer for that.

For those of you working this week, remember school’s out for the summer, which means quieter roads! For those of you, like me, who are the only one in your household setting off for work, at least we can get there quicker!

‘til next week,

Anne