The events of recent weeks at Grangemouth provide a telling example of the need for maturity in workforce relations. The plant operator seemingly had made it very plain to the workers and their union, Unite, that major spending cuts were necessary to avoid the closure of the petro chemicals plant. They set out very clearly what was required, a pay freeze, no bonus payments and a change to the final salary pension scheme. Apparently assuming that this was mere brinkmanship on the part of the employer, the union recommended to its workers that they reject the deal which they duly did. The result was the announcement that the plant was to close. Their bluff having been called, the union returned to the table to accept the original proposals.
This of course is how the story has unfolded to the outside world. I have only got what the news reporters have told the world and do not know the intricacies of the negotiations. There might be a whole other level to what has gone on but from this view point, and unfolding as it has in the public eye with such devastating impact upon the local economy and the national economy in Scotland, the impression is very far from edifying.
The union appears to have completely miscalculated the position and ignored the very clear warning of the employer of what would happen, and did happen, if the proposals were rejected. What led the union so completely to disbelieve what it was being told in very clear terms? It may be there was an element of the union flexing its muscles and believing it could dictate events, but on the other hand it is hard to believe that it was so disregarding of the plight of its members as to risk the plant closing rather than trying to find a way to reach a compromise.
And why does it appear that politicians were only galvanised to get involved after positions were already being set in stone and a closure was imminent?
Had there been a more mature approach to the negotiations, perhaps on both sides of the table, it might have been possible for the situation to have been properly explained and understood so as to avoid this public relations disaster and the huge angst it must have caused the workers concerned. We must hope that a resolution to this situation is achieved soon for all concerned and that other employers and unions pause to reflect on events here before making and disregarding ultimatums in the future. These issues are too important for a game of bluff. Plain speaking, and plain listening are what is required.
This article first appeared at www.hrmaturity.com