I had my morning coffee with George Osborne yesterday. Actually I was one of around 150 people who heard the Chancellor addressing the Liverpool SME Summit as part of the International Festival for Business.
Osborne gave the sort of bland speech which I suspect he has given dozens of times to similar audiences. However I was surprised, and a little bit alarmed, to hear him boast that one of his proudest achievements as Chancellor is the fact that there has been an 80 per cent reduction in the number of workers taking their employer to an Industrial Tribunal. He then went on to warn against allowing trade unions to have too much power or influence. I had rather hoped that the days when Tory politicians indulged in cheap union bashing were over, but obviously not!
Most sensible and responsible employers in both the private and public sectors treat their workers fairly, but sadly that is not always the case. It’s probably no coincidence that the decline in trade union membership over the last 25 years has gone alongside the introduction of zero hours contracts and huge increases in both work related stress and unpaid overtime.
I feel that the trade union movement needs to undertake a public awareness campaign to make people understand the benefits and safeguards of union membership and to tackle head on the claims by George Osborne and his colleagues that a heavily unionised workforce will mean a return to the industrial confrontations of the 1970’s.
Incidentally, Osborne is not the only political George I’ve met. Back in the 1990s George Galloway bought me a curry. But that’s another story…