The current dispute of the tanker drivers and their threat of striking due to an apparent erosion of their employment rights over the years shows the power that unhappy employees can have. In this case they may bring the country to its knees if they strike causing an even bigger fuel shortage. Employee relations is not good. The tanker drivers feel they have been badly treated over the years and finally have had enough. They are worried that the “turn and burn” culture required by the petrol companies is forcing them to deliver faster for less; corners are cut on health and safety whilst they are responsible for the delivery of 38,000 tons of volatile fuel. They are fighting for minimum standards.
Originally the dispute was about safety but now through their union, Unite, they are requesting better pay and pensions. It has been reported that one company sought to cut the pay of its drivers by £9,000. It seems the tanker drivers feel undervalued.
The industry appears to have gobbled up the profits without passing on the benefits to the drivers. To reduce staff costs and increase profits the drivers have been TUPE transferred to outside contractors and in the process their pension providers have been changed many times.
Under TUPE regulations terms and conditions can not be changed unless for an economic, technological or organisational reason. Pensions do not transfer under TUPE but a new employer has the obligation to provide a comparable pension scheme. With many final salary pension schemes closing the only alternative has been to provide a money purchase scheme which are dependent on performance of that product to pay out in the long run.
Conciliation talks through ACAS will start imminently. Hopefully ACAS can work with the union to ensure that basic working conditions and employment rights are improved creating an action plan to move forward. Employers have a duty of care to their employees and need to ensure there are basic safety standards in place that protect all concerned. Furthermore they need to ensure that the reward the drivers receive, both financial and non-financial, is acceptable and motivational.
If the basic principle of HR management of fairness is applied to this situation it can be resolved.