Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
TUESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2006
Q80 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: The euphemism
"social partnership" is something that needs to be defined.
What does it mean in this country? What would it look like?
Ms O'Grady: We do have social
partnership arrangements, for example, in respect of the Low Pay
Commission where it is recognised that equal weight should be
given to the voice of employers and representatives of workers
in addition to support and advice from independents. We have it
with the Health and Safety Commission. It is not unknown in Britain,
but it is very limited.
Q81 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Therefore,
"social partnership" means that the unions have an equal
voice to employers with government?
Ms O'Grady: Clearly, not equal
with government. Governments are elected by the whole people,
but there is recognition that two very important constituencies
in the country with a shared key interest in the prosperity and,
hopefully, decent standards in the country should have a voice
around the table and there should be some parity between the respective
voices certainly a better balance than we have now.
Q82 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: That is a
very laudable position, but if you are arguing for equal parity
between the unions and employers, through what platform do you
deliver that relationship? Where does that exist?
Mr Page: One would deliver that
through the setting up of a social partnership structure within
a company. There are examples where companies in the UK have done
this. If one has an issue like skills training where there is
a particular employer's interest because of the specific needs
of the company and the markets that it is now developing and in
future, but also a specific need of the workforce in terms of
the individual skills that workers need for the job they are doing,
or a job that they may be doing in five or 10 years' time, one
has a common interest in having a well-trained workforce, but
the specific needs of the employer are slightly different from
those of the employees. You bring the two sides together and they
sit down and talk about it in a holistic way.
Q83 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Why do you
not deliver that through the sector skills councils?
Mr Page: Maybe some of that work
could be done through sector skills councils, but within an individual
company a sector skills council would be too big and bureaucratic.
It is much easier for a company to set up a social partnership
body within that company there are European precedents for that
in order to develop specific arrangements based on those individual
Ms O'Grady: As you know, there
is a requirement that sector skills councils have at least one
trade union place, but having one seat out of 12 is not the same
as having six.
Q84 Chairman: You are saying that
you want greater representation of the voice of the workers and
their representatives in every forum to do with skills?
Ms O'Grady: That is our principled
position. Interestingly, the sector skills councils that are ahead
of the game in coming up with agreements and implementing them
are the ones where we have the best representation. We are also
a driver for change.
Q85 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: How do you
justify your claim that "unions often have a much clearer
grasp of the longer-term skill needs of the whole workforce than
employers"? How do you know that?
Ms O'Grady: I know that some individual
employers would agree. Some can be very good in respect of their
own business in knowing what they need tomorrow. With pressures
on them they are not necessarily brilliant about what they might
need in five years' time. They are not necessarily very good in
thinking about what is good for their whole sector, unless there
is a good supply chain relationship which tends to focus minds.
They certainly do not necessarily think in many ways why should
they? about what is good for the whole economy. When we are all
sitting round the table together between us we can come up with
a good solution, but individual employers do not always think
beyond the borders of their own companies and the longer-term
interests of the sector and economy.
Q86 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: That reinforces
the answer you have just given that you need representation in
skills fora to capture the micro and macro-issues facing skill
shortages in the UK?
Ms O'Grady: Yes.
Q87 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: The next question
is something very close to my heart. How should employers go about
attracting more people into the industry, especially women? What
should be the role of government and unions in that process?
Ms O'Grady: I think that a lot
can be done about image. I would like to see the government acting
as a national champion to attract young people into manufacturing
and talking up, not talking down, manufacturing.
Q88 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: One acute
problem in terms of completing apprenticeships is the lack of
employer engagement. What are you doing as a union with regard
to the employers that you are working with to say to them, "If
you offer more work-based training opportunities for young people
you are likely to bring in more women"? I speak to women
up and down the country who are involved in training programmes
that sit outside the normal providers and who say, "Give
us job-based training and we will complete our apprenticeships."
If the union does have a significant voice are you saying to employers
that they should give maximum training opportunities and then
stipulate that those should be for women and people from ethnically
Ms O'Grady: You will be very pleased
to hear that currently we are running a campaign where we are
doing just that in terms of bargaining and training our own union
learning representatives who can be great mentors for apprentices,
young men as well as young women. But it is particularly important
for young women to stay the course where they are only three out
of a hundred. It is important to get it built into agreements
at a sectoral and company level that equality and getting a better
balance of apprentices is key. We have materials that we can forward
to the Committee.
Q89 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: The government
has £124 billion worth of public procurement contracts. It
has a major union involvement in terms of employees. Are you going
to the government and asking what training opportunities it is
instilling and building into its contracts to ensure that it delivers
on apprenticeship and training programmes in the public sector
and through public sector contracts? Are you doing that? If so,
I want to know about it. I cannot find much evidence of it at
Ms O'Grady: I can say with absolute
confidence that we initiated this and in addition we have had
the guts to go to the Treasury on it. I would be very happy to
supply the Committee with that information as well. That is a
matter that we have taken up as a priority in terms of vocational
training more generally, to which we are absolutely committed,
and the importance of building that into procurement policy. This
relates also to other issues, specifically following the Women
and Work Commission where we argued the same point on gender and
Q90 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Are you happy
that government departments are doing enough training and offering
Ms O'Grady: No.
Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Nor am I.
Q91 Mr Clapham: I refer to Mr Page's
reply regarding the social contract and how that can impact on
skills. Do you agree with me that there is a superb example at
London Heathrow Terminal 5 where the trade unions and employers
entered into a long-term agreement that covered all aspects, resulting
in that terminal being a world quality building delivered on time?
Do you agree that that is the kind of thing that can result from
such a contract?
Mr Page: That is exactly the kind
of thing. You are right that Terminal 5 is a model. I hope that
as we move forward to the Olympics in 2012 when some of the big
procurement projects arise we can look at Terminal 5 and learn
some of the very important, positive lessons flowing from that
Q92 Mark Hunter: I want to ask about
the regional dimension. In the evidence that you submitted to
us you expressed concern that the regional skills partnerships
"lack enough buy-in from employers and the workforce".
Would you expand briefly on why you think that is the case? Do
you think that regional skills partnerships have a useful role
to play in resolving problems, or do they simply get in the way
and muddy the waters?
Ms O'Grady: I suspect the practical
answer is that we have probably been overtaken by events. With
Leitch's recommendations and greater focus on regionalisation
of the LSC we will see less duplication at that level. I believe
that that has been a problem for employers and workers more generally.
That should not be read as a lack of commitment to regional economic
policy and strategy. The TUC sees great potential in that approach,
but lots of people would admit that the RSPs have been patchy.
Q93 Chairman: I want to end this
session by asking an overarching question. I still find this a
very complicated area. I know that there has been a structural
change post-Leitch; we have learning and skills councils, national
skills academies, regional skills partnerships, sector skills
councils, sector skills development agencies, the Skills Alliance
and now the University for Industry. In evidence to us the EEF
said that, "Despite the best intentions the raft of initiatives
in recent years has created a bureaucratic structure which employers
struggle to navigate and" this is the important bit "with
which the majority of them have become disengaged. The very complexity
of the system means that particularly smaller companies just cannot
cope and so they give up." Do you think that is a fair analysis?
Ms O'Grady: I have a lot of sympathy
for the concerns about complexity, and we share an interest in
simplification. However, the one thing that all these various
quangos and bodies have in common is that they are required to
be employer-led, not employment-led as we would prefer. Some might
say that it is a bit rich that those who have been given the opportunity
to run and control all these various bodies should then complain
that they are not performing.
Q94 Chairman: I take issue with that.
In my own region I hear complaints from employers that the various
bodies have to spend all their time coordinating with one another.
Because they are so confused about one another's responsibilities
or overlap they have no time to get on with doing their actual
job. There are people employed by the regional development agencies
to coordinate the work of all the other players and they spend
a lot of time at meetings discussing what they ought to do but
never actually do it.
Ms O'Grady: Yes.
Q95 Chairman: That is an elusive
"yes". Is that a "yes" of agreement or challenge?
Ms O'Grady: I recognise that I
am the one who is supposed to be here to give the answers, but
if the question is "why if it is employer dominated is it
not working? perhaps that should be put to the employers.
Q96 Chairman: They believe that it
is dominated by state bodies, for example the learning and skills
councils, the regional development agencies and so on.
Ms O'Grady: Every single one of
them is required by law to be dominated by employers.
Chairman: That is not the way most businesses
see the RDAs.
Mr Binley: The problem is that it is
big business dominated. It is CBI stuff all the way down the line,
and we ought to think about getting further down into the SME
Q97 Mr Clapham: Ms O'Grady, I am
looking at your submission. I note you are very concerned about
the way in which the positive contribution that trade unions can
make is not being recognised. The pertinent part is in paragraph
22.3: "The TUC is disappointed that Prosperity in a Changing
World"a document published by UK Trade and Investment"does
not make any reference to trade unions and the positive role that
unions can play." Can you say a little about the positive
role that unions can play in addition to what UKTI can do?
Mr Lent: We know that when overseas
companies look for a place to invest they make their decisions
based on many different factors, but clearly one of them is the
nature of industrial relations in any economy. We feel that to
promote the very positive industrial relations that many manufacturing
companies have in Britain must surely be a selling point for the
UK. Just to give a very practical example of that, we know that
some time ago it was normal for trade unions and their representatives
to take part in trade delegations overseas, but that seems no
longer to be the case, even though trade unions often take part
in overseas DTI initiatives on policy development, for example.
We argue that to encourage trade union representatives to take
part in overseas trade delegations would be an extra factor to
sell UK Plc overseas.
Q98 Mr Clapham: Have you raised this
matter with the Department of Trade and Industry; and, if so,
what has been the response?
Mr Lent: In truth, it was something
that we really began to consider when we were asked to contribute
to the Select Committee, but it is something that we will probably
take forward given the more positive response that we get both
here and elsewhere.
Q99 Mr Clapham: I think that it is
an important point and one that should be raised with the DTI.
On what kind of strategic sectors do you believe UKTI should be
concentrating? If you think there are sectors that should be concentrated
upon how do they differ? What are the main features that you think
should be embodied in those sectors on which we should concentrate?
Mr Lent: If you are talking about
specific sectors, one area where we think there may be considerable
prospects for promotion overseas is green manufacturing and the
development of the environmental industry. We know that that has
grown very considerably in the UK in recent years, but we believe
that a great deal more can be done certainly domestically by the
government to promote enterprise in that area and also to sell
it overseas. This is a global market that is growing massively
and the UK needs to take advantage of it. Given the level of manufacturing
experience and expertise in some areas of research and development,
that should certainly be promoted.