Written by Helen Beech and

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As Brexit negotiations teeter on the edge, and the position of the Government looks more perilous by the day, many businesses have been concentrating on the “what if’s” scenarios and the impact on business, recruitment, operations, jobs and the like. Planning for HR has probably never been so fraught unless “head in the sand” has been the favoured option!

However, there is another possible scenario that HR may well have missed in all the Brexit noise, but one that seems more and more likely because of it. A well-respected think-tank, The Institute of Employment Rights, has been quietly putting together a weighty document that is likely to influence a Labour Government’s industrial relations policy in the event of it winning an election. This will not involve a tinkering around the edges of employment legislation but a wholescale fundamental change to the way employers engage with their workforces, the rights of the workforce and how they are policed. A cornerstone of the proposals would be to return to the mandatory sectoral bargaining of the 1970’s and then to layer on top of this enterprise bargaining. Bargaining would cover a huge range of issues from terms & conditions and pay, to job grading, job descriptions, restructures and redundancy terms, employment policies, H&S and equality. The list is significant.

So where does this leave HR? Many HR professionals have never had to deal with trade unions save in the context of a TU rep attending disciplinary or grievance meetings for individuals. The new world of industrial relations is likely to look very different under a Labour Government and will require a completely new skill set for the professional HR manager. Understanding the mechanisms of trade unions, how they work, and who’s who within the union will become essential. Perhaps most importantly HR will have to tread a fine line in what is effectively a “marriage” between the company and the union(s) from which the company cannot walk away. Both parties are in it for the long haul. Becoming a good negotiator, not just with the union, but perhaps with an over-zealous and robust management team, will become an essential part of HR’s armoury in the new industrial relations world. The HR person who proves their ability to maintain stability between the two sides, whilst helping drive the business forward will be a sought-after commodity. If HR thought Brexit was a headache, watch this space!

16th November 2018