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Roy Rickhuss addresses TUC Congress 2015

13th September 2015

Moving our motion on Consultation and Employee Engagement, Roy calls for positive message about unions to be promoted.

“Congress, throughout our proud history, trade unions have been vehicles of positive change. We make workplaces safer, smarter and stronger. We help businesses compete globally, deliver public services more efficiently and encourage long-term thinking.

But we have to recognize that our opportunities to influence are diminishing.

Union membership in the private sector has been languishing around 15% for a number of years and we must transform our approach if we are to change that.

Positive engagement with employees is about good business. It’s about trade union members shaping their workplace and sharing the rewards of success. And it will only happen if we talk openly about the role of constructive trade unionism.

We can’t do this on our own – we need trade unions, businesses and government to design, provide and promote a partnership framework. We’ve seen that approach work in sectors such as car manufacturing – trade unions as partners understanding and meeting the industry’s challenges.

But it’s not just the policy levers that government has that are important – it’s how the government acts too. That’s why I welcome the amendment from the FDA highlighting the important role of the civil service and public sector more widely as employers who can drive change.

Congress I want to be very clear about one thing. This approach isn’t about avoiding confrontation. It’s about making sure that when we do take action our arguments are solid and our support is strong.

Congress will be aware of the recent dispute in Tata Steel over the closure of their final salary pension scheme. The steel unions had for many years worked in partnership with Tata to tackle the challenges facing the steel industry.

But on the pension issue, we made it clear – Tata got it wrong.

We were prepared to fight to protect our members terms and conditions, and our members let the company know their strength of feeling – with a 74% turnout and nearly 90% vote in favour of taking strike action. Tata got back around the table and we secured the future of the scheme for the thousands of workers who would have been affected. So this motion is not about appeasing employers. It’s about genuine tripartite relationships between business, trade unions and public policy makers.

To take advantage of this approach we will need to rebuild the trade union movement, particularly in the private sector. And to make trade union membership relevant to the millions of people who have yet to join us.

That is a job made much harder by the latest attack of the Tories and their cynical, vindictive and spiteful Trade Union Bill. But we need to seize the opportunity that this week provides.

The only way we will beat this bill is by reminding people beyond our movement of the good things that we do. We need to set out a positive vision that goes beyond this conference hall – to our members, potential members and even employers.

It needs to be a vision that gives hope when faced by a changing world.

A vision that the workplace can be better. That work can be secure and rewarding. And that trade unions can make that happen.