Shock! Gig Economy Is Not The Only Show In Town

 

The future workforce of Britain – where the jobs of the future are  going to be and what they are like – has been spotlighted by new research. And the findings will surprise you.

The Changing World of Work, by NIESR’s Jonny Runge (edited by Becky Wright), will be premiered at the Unions21 conference tomorrow.  In a landscape over-populated by talk of robotics, artificial intelligence and the use of technology, one universal truth is that certain industries will rise, and others will begin or continue their descent in the labour market.

This gives three inescapable questions:

  • Where will workers of the near future be?
  • How will they be represented at work?
  • What changes will we need to make in light of the future of work?

For trade unions, the questions are all the more pressing – existential really, given the low levels of union membership amongst the young and also amongst certain sectors pf the economy – retail, hospitality, and social care – especially when the predominant form of employment is precarious.

There are challenges to an “establishment” view that unions are technophobes and laggards when it comes to connecting with the so-called “Young Core Workers”. There is excellent work being done by the TUC and the Good Innovations outfit.  But a key point of the new research is that crucial as it is, we should not put all our eggs in the one Gig economy basket.

This is interesting and innovative territory, and it seems to me to be well-founded.  Runge and Wright have identified and tried to extrapolate  five key  influences on the labour market – demography (growing and ageing population will lead to increase demand/consumption in particular sectors), technology (automation of certain human-only occupations will take place,  but  the extent is arguable), productivity (and what is the post-crash stagnation  become entrenched in the short  to medium term), globalisation (certainly a factor,  but its impact now obscured by resurgent nationalism and protectionism), and changing contractual arrangements of certain services (from, yes,  worker-status contracts (as opposed to employee status), demands  for  a better work-life balance, and  the rise of the “collaborative economy”).

Clearly there is a degree of uncertainty about some of these influences, but using data from the estimable UKCES, Runge and Wright have identified three industries with expected high employment growth – the retail trade (surprised?) hospitality and management services.

Collectively, these three sectors will see employment growth by an estimated 900,000 jobs in the period to 2024, accounting for half of all the new jobs in the UK economy is this period.  There is a noticeable decline in self-employment, a growth in those in workers in these sectors with at least a first degree, and  no dramatic change in the balance between part-time and full-time working, or between percentages of men and women employed.

Three “ones to watch” are also suggested – Construction, Social Work and Information Technology, who between them are projected to add over 600,000 jobs between now and 2024.

The report concludes with a brief over view of UKCES employment projections for over 70 industries, with a preliminary view on the likely impact of Brexit.

From the perspective or worker representation and employee voice, this analysis – with its detailed demographic, hours-worked and occupational breakdown – is very helpful indeed.  The snapshots of the level of  union membership and collective bargaining  give grounds for cautions optimism  that there is a platform for trade union growth in each sector.

Runge and Wright give us the answer to the first of our three questions, and paint a vivid picture of the dynamics and challenges of union organising in these sectors.

Whether it is the overall constructive engagement with workforces that is part of the Taylor review, or practical questions of the extent to which unions focus on particular sectors, geographies and roles, the Changing World of Work is an important contribution.

The Changing World of Work can be downloaded here.

Full disclosure:  I am a board member of Unions21, on whose website this piece also appears

The APR* May Be Dead But Watch Out For What Follows

*Annual Performance Review. Photocredit: http://www.flytrapcare.com

Earlier this year, Accenture boss Pierre Nanterme announced with a flourish the death of annual performance reviews.  As I read his rationale I found myself nodding in agreement, but by the end I was more anxious than reassured.

From an employee and union perspective Performance Management is a big big deal – even more so in a deregulated labour market with increasing emphasis on basic pay and pay progression being linked to performance.

Put any ten union reps in a room and we will quickly  come up  with just about the same “top five”  of poor performance management  regimes – inappropriate target setting,  seeking constant improvements when the employee doesn’t have the means to achieve them,  “levelling” or a  lack of transparency/objectivity,  discriminatory  practices , and their use as means to manage our members out of employment.

We all will have had to face the sometimes awful, life-changing or, tragically, even life-ending, consequences of bad performance management.

Without wanting to state the obvious, this is bad for our members but also for the employer who risks productivity and reputation by pursuing misplaced methods.

So when M Nanterme asserts that “the traditional annual review process does not justify the cost, effort or outcome…the process can actually demotivate the vey people that companies want to retain and develop, “ I want to read more.  (I also want to invite him to a Unions21 event to expand and debate this some more).

Reading on, it seems that M Nanterme may be one of those employers who can see things the same way as we do: “No longer will we rely on forced rankings and comparisons of employees…..no longer will we fill out time-consuming assessment forms that focus upon the past. It’s not what we need.”

So far, so reassuringly good.  But it is one thing to identify a problem, and quite another to solve it. And this is where I start getting nervy.

If our same ten reps standing in a room turned their attention to what a good performance management system would look like, I think it would be less likely that we would come up with the same visions. In an ideal world, would we have PM at all, still less determine anything to do with pay on the basis of it?

But recognising that we do not necessarily have all the answers doesn’t debar us from a critical review of the post-APR world.

“Our job as leaders is to create the right environment for the new [millennial] generation to flourish in their careers…..the focus is on the future and how through frequent, timely and individualised coaching decisions – people can improve their performance….” says M Nanterme.

Two immediate issues, don’t you think?:  What is the concept of a “career” in the future world of work?  And just how “frequent, timely and individualised” is the new way of working?

Fortunately, M  Nanterme gives us a further insight: “The change we are making at Accenture puts people at the center [sic]…our people are looking for real-time, on-demand conversations to define priorities and to get and to give feedback….This new approach is entirely digitally-enabled so that conversations can happen anywhere, anytime and on any device.  This is the new world all of us are operating in – with fluid feedback at the point of need.”

Well let’s just stop right there.  A “Martini” approach to performance review. How alluring. Rather like a Venus Fly Trap to an unfortunate insect. Where are the limits to and control on such an all-enveloping utterly invasive mode of assessment? Whose “need” are we talking about?  What means do employees have to ensure that the commitment their employer expects from them is reciprocated?

That is the real and pressing challenge in what M. Nanterme is championing. Every instinct points to anxiety – that the reality of such a scheme will be assessment on a granular scale, 24/7/365.  The savings from digitalising and automating this function will accrue to employers but not employees.  And further automation means that algorythms will present irresistible opportunities for further savings – only for the lack of control and responsiveness from managers that so many 21st century workers have complained about for years to increase still further.

From there it is but a short step to a dystopian “Black Mirror” future where life chances and experiences are predicated on measures you can neither see nor alter.

I warmly and genuinely invite Pierre and his colleagues at Accenture to tell us it isn’t so?

 

This post first appeared on the Unions21 website

Unions Need Good Governance

Good governance in action? (Not the NEC, but the Russian Federation Council in session)

 

As trade unionists we demand, fairly, that the enterprises employing our members are run properly. We challenge bad management and expose the worst excesses – the Philip Greens and CityLinks and Sports Directs.  In short we champion good governance.

That is entirely correct, but do we do as we say others must?  What does good governance look like for trade unions?

It is an important question and not just because of the expectations we have of other employers.  Yes, other employers, because we are significant employers too.  And unions also are subject to the same commercial norms as every other business.  Yes – business, because if we spend more than we earn, we will go bust, just like any other business.

Well if only it were that simple. Because of course we are not just like any other company or even voluntary sector organisation. We have specific reporting and accounting responsibilities – the AR21 required by the Certification Officer for example.  We also have peculiar obligations under the so-called Lobbying Act.

Then there are the not-so-merry dances required by the Trade Union Act and the exposure to punitive legal action for failing to comply.

Whereas most firms in most sectors have their own regulatory jungle to cut through, the dynamics of unions give us a distinctive set of circumstances.  We are proud champions of democracy, but this sometimes leads to confusion or even conflict as to where authority lies – at head office or in branches.  Often it is at Conference – but only when conference is in session! And from an employment perspective, who should union managers talk to first about some big issue or other – their own staff side reps or the elected policy makers?

We champion diversity and inclusivity, but the numbers of employees or elected reps are rarely, if ever, in proportion with our membership in terms of age, gender, ethnicity (and so on). And attempts to press the issue, by the use of reserved seats, or the creation of bespoke networks or sections can be resisted, tokenistic or viewed as a distortion rather than a facilitator of union values.

And on top of all this, we have an electoral process for selecting leaders that seems – on the basis of turnout – to fail to engage the clear majority of union members.

We are, of course, like all membership organisations – struggling to reconcile what we do on organising and servicing. Except we can’t necessarily chose who to recruit or who, in a controversial legacy from the “closed shop”  (and how old does it make me feel to need to  hyperlink that!) era, who to expel. And we do seem to have attracted a stalker to rival the hostility of most of the mass media in the form of HMRC, who have thrust themselves upon a number of unions over the last couple of years.

This unique cocktail of circumstances and constraints actually makes good governance even more important.  Because some of the inevitable consequences of good governance are the very things unions need to survive today’s sometimes existential challenges: A strong, clear sense of purpose. An esprit de corps.  Clear lines of accountability and management. A “good to know” not “need to know” culture. Searching, identifying and sharing “best practice” being an expected virtue.

In my book, we need to go no further in the search for what “Good Governance” looks like in our world: It is summed up in these key outputs. And all of these characteristics are impervious to the servicing/organising conundrum, internal pension reform, hostile government, bad employers and “heart-sink” members. These are things that we can –should, must – do for ourselves.

I hope I will be caught in a metaphorical cloudburst of comments and contributions that show how good governance is the norm and not, as I fear, still mainly an aspiration.

And before anyone gets carried away,  let’s not forget that the union movement is the largest membership based outfit in the country and what we deliver for and with our members changes lives and society.

This piece also appears on the Unions21 website. The Unions 21 conference on 21 March will look at what unions can do  to increase capacity and extend our influence – including some essential elements of good governance. You can  find ourt more and register for a place at http://bit.ly/2kgUGbh

#HeartUnions is here – but we need more support!

 

The role of membership data as a crucial asset in unions’ comms and campaigning work is being increasingly understood.  There has always been an obligation, borne of legislation/litigation and common sense, to know who we are talking to and what their membership status is. But the ability to look in more detail at the interaction we have with our members has the potential for us to improve the quality that relationship exponentially.

For example, knowing the email addresses of members who access union on-line services (including websites) enables us to cross-reference that with demographic data to see how effective we are being at reaching certain groups.  This can be fine-tuned in a number of ways:  we could focus on reps rather than members in general.  We could drill down to a granular level to see how much time has been spent on which page of the site.  We can track usage to see when people visit, and what their navigational pathway is.

This means we can tailor and improve our communications   both to and from our members. That’s valuable and important but of course it is limited by the data we hold on website visitors. And the biggest constraint on that is that the fullest – and therefore most valuable – datasets will only be for members.

I readily recognise that there is an arguable point of principle here: We should only be concerned with members because it is their subs that fund what we do.  And by joining, they have signed up for a club (see my piece last week on branding) in a way that non-members or “outsiders” have not.

But with union membership  stubbornly stuck  at  around 6m, and  showing no signs of rapidly expanding,  and with coverage of collective agreements and density  at  depressed levels,  I would argue that  we should, indeed must,  use every opportunity  to  extend our reach  into the workforce.  Once we connect with people, as I have described above, all sorts of other things can become possible. But we have to establish a communication channel to do that.

This is where models of organising and membership come into play.  If we look at many pressure groups, such as Greenpeace, we see that structures that are orientated towards supporters rather than, or in addition to, members.  This two tiered  offering  sees  people  pay a lower  level  of subscriptions –  or possibly  no subscriptions at all –  to sign up.  Their access is restricted in comparison to full-rate members, but that is ok, because their expectation from us is much more basic. This arrangement certainly has lower barriers to entry – but also reduced powers of retention.

Members matter but supporters can play a crucial role too

What would the relationship be with supporters as opposed to members? Here’s my “starter for ten”: Basic generic employment law advice. Local contacts. Campaign material. Information on how to get involved. Calls to Action.  But something that is supporter-specific, an event of some description would be good.  This could be allied to a wider political goal such as the recent “JC4PM” tour, or an appeal to turn out for a local or national demo.

There will be endless permutations of possible and actual support-offerings, but the bottom line is surely this:  we need to reach out to and engage with people for whom a full-blown membership package will not be attractive. We simply cannot afford not to.

Many unions are already engaged in this task.  Forms of organising from Unite’s Community section to the IWGB are actively pursuing new forms of engagement. The NUS explicitly offers a two tier service with their “NUS Extra” programme.  Multi-party campaigns, consisting of unions and other friendly groups,  such as HealthCampaignsTogether and Schoolcuts.org.uk, have a particular focus on a supporter model of engagement, but here there is a specific set of policy objectives as opposed to explicitly promoting trade unions.

In all of this, I believe signposting and co-ordination is key.  There is little value in each TUC affiliate providing generic employment advice.  Partly because that would be duplication and partly because if we ae engaged in a battle for the future of the movement, we need a strong central coordinating body  like the TUC, as the default provider of  such  advice and bespoke centre-of- excellence.

The collection and use of data can give unions individually a key advantage in optimising communications and campaigning.  But it is in the collective space that there is even more to gain by bringing fundamental messages about trade unions to the wider population in a coordinated fashion.

As we enter #HeartUnions week, it is worth remembering that we have no divine right to be the voice of working people. But by aligning   membership strategies with developing an offering for supporters, we give ourselves a hugely enhanced future.

How we can use digital information is an ongoing area of investigation for Unions 21. You can catch up on all their work as well as hear some top level speakers on the key issues we face at the 2017 Unions 21 conference on 21 March. Details, including how to register are here.

This post also appears on the Unions21 website

Unions and Branding: Cause for Concern or Celebration?

(photocredit: Andrew Cowie/Getty Images)

Are our unions becoming a bit like football teams? We’ve come a long way from the lively, ornate, melodramatic fabric banners that used to typify any labour movement march of significance.

Now it is very much a “team colours” approach: Gold-and blue for PCS, red-and-white for Unite, blue-and-white for one teaching union, white-and-blue for another.  Turquoise-and-orange for a third.  Purple-white-and-green for Unison, black-white-and-orange (GMB), Burgundy and gold (CWU), green-and-white (RMT).

It’s not a question of size – everyone is at it: NAPO (two shades of blue and a dash of green), Equity (purple-on-white) and BECTU (blue-and-gold) – soon to merge with Prospect (two shades of blue).

Allied to colours is often an image – or more usually a shape. The CWU’s double wave, or the TUC’s 3-by-3 shaded grid.

But whether letters or shapes or both, these are clearly very different from traditional union imagery.  And so union demonstrations have arguably become homogenised and therefore somewhat sterilised, superficial, more concerned with image than substance.  At least that’s what critics – conservatives with little and large “C” s  – might say.

I’m going to disagree here and strongly. Far from giving-in to commercialised and bland marketing values, we have just got a lot smarter at the concept and practising of branding.

Look at the benefits it can bring – from an organisational and media perspective, you can readily identify “your” people.  And they can identify each other too.  You’re wearing the same colours as me – you’re one of us.  It facilitates a sense of community for members.

It is also a short-cut to recognition for the outside world – literally in the case of QR codes.  People who want to find us will know what to look for.  But common branding is also a short cut to a set of values.

We want both our members and the rest of the world to know what we are about don’t we?  That good work is important. That collectivism and community spirit is more important than undiluted and uncaring individualism.  That workers are entitled health, safety, fair pay and job security.  That we get things done and give people a voice.

But we want people to “get” this as easily as possible.  We don’t have the time or resources to engage every individual in debate about what we do and how and why we do it.  Branding   for the trade union movement can provide that quick link and give us greater reach.

Of course it’s not a “magic bullet”.  Things rarely are.  Branding is a double-edged sword, especially if one acquires unfortunate associations.  And such an approach  will only  work  if  there is  suite of supporting  measures – an integrated media strategy  with  clear and common  straplines, hash tags and so on.  A level of consciousness amongst  activists to ensure they actively disseminate  key messages by understanding that  they  have a union identity, and give life to it  by “liking”   material on Facebook feeds,  retweeting,  keeping branch comms consistent.

For the labour movement to survive and indeed flourish   we need to be smart and sassy.  We need to be easily identifiable and easy to connect with.  In a global, digital and robustly free-market economy, we need to use what generally works, tempered with an understanding of how to make it effective for our key issues.

I somehow don’t think that the collective colour scheme will be the key issue which seals the deal on the Prospect/BECTU or NUT/ATL tie-ups (if the latter is backed in the current members’ ballot).  But if anyone seriously pushes for the fluorescent shades illustrated below, then that really could be the kiss of death.

(Sock images courtesy of Sports Direct)

This piece also appears on the Unions21 blog