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Why we need more union expertise in employee relations

26th November 2019

We’re entering an age of new kinds of employee collectives and activism.

That still means unions, who continue to be strong in their traditional sectors. More than a quarter of UK employees are union members. But now we’re seeing other kinds of groups coming together, more informally around issues of gender, race, sustainability: interest groups usually made up of younger employees with fresh energy and a sharp sense of purpose and identity, cohering around perceived discrimination or what constitutes inappropriate behaviour from bosses, colleagues or the organisation as a whole.

This is why CMP has made the acquisition of Marshall-James, the specialist IR and ER consultancy, set up and run by Andy Cook in 2006. For the past 13 years, Marshall-James has provided advice, guidance and services to some of the largest domestic and international employers in Industrial Relations and Employee Relations; including large scale change, recruitment, investigations and training.

Sometimes it’s assumed that industrial relations (IR) and employee relations (ER) are one and the same thing – they’re just the negative and positive faces of the same coin. So HR will think they have the issues covered.

If they’re working in a traditionally unionised sector then there’ll be a team of people working with unions on IR – but that also means ER gets overshadowed. Efforts to improve the workplace environment, openness, trust, the whole culture of good conversations, are left stunted. On the other hand, where there’s little expectation of industrial action, there’s no expertise in IR, just the focus on ER, leading to the risk of a single dispute that can undo all the previous work.

The best HR service will allow for IR and ER to collaborate, to be a joined-up part of the organisation’s ‘people and culture’ operations – not separated as hard line management for IR and softer face for ER. Understanding and managing relationships with unions and any other emerging groups of activists is an essential basis for moving forward with ER.

CMP’s ambition is to be the UK’s leading employee relations service provider – which means making sure the organisations we work with have the capability to always be thinking about the big picture – strategically, and with the long-term good of the organisation and its employees in mind. The acquisition of Marshall-James will give us access to a wider market and some specific expertise that current and new clients will benefit from.

Arran Heal, Managing Director, CMP