ARE HONDA OUT TO BREAK THE UNION?

The Swindon Advertiser recently ran an article describing how a group of a dozen workers (associates as Honda calls them) are organising a petition for the UNITE union to be de-recognised.

This is not just an exercise in naivety by a group of foolish workers, behind them stands Honda, who have employed the services of a union busting consultancy. The paper reports that they are hoping that if more than 50% of workers sign a petition then this will trigger de-recognition. My understating is that there is actually no statutory trigger for de-recognition, but Honda are seeking to make UNITE’s position difficult.

Honda is still regarded as one of the best places to work in Swindon when it comes to pay and conditions. The basic pay of a worker on the line is £22,000, plus bonuses, overtime and health and pension schemes. After an employee has been there for three years they are entitled to a car lease scheme where they can change their vehicles every 15 months.

UNITE have played a considerable role in achieving these good terms of employment. During the worst effects of the recession in 2009, UNITE also offered Honda support in two agreements. One secured payment for workers laid-off during a four-month shutdown of production in exchange for working -time accounts and the second that saved 500 compulsory redundancies in return for a 10 month 3% pay cut.

There are still 3000 employed by Honda in Swindon, and with the introduction of the new Civic in October they seek to take on a further 300; around a third of the staff are members of UNITE. Honda negotiate pay and conditions with an Associate Representative Council (ARC) that now consists of mainly UNITE members on the workers side. The company recently proposed a change that would mean working longer hours without extra overtime money. The workers side advised the company that this would be unacceptable, and asked Honda to reconsider, and sought to get their full time officer involved to help find a solution.

The difficulty of course for the UNITE members is that they are bound by a non-disclosure agreement not to discuss the details of the talks. But Honda management have behaved disgracefully by falsely claiming that the ARC staff members have rejected the deal, when in fact they have just asked for further negotiations; Honda have also claimed that UNITE are keeping staff members in the dark, when of course UNITE are only respecting a confidentiality agreement forced upon them by Honda.

The company have gone so far as to produce a DVD that has been shown to all Associates, presenting their own side of the negotiations in a misleadingly glowing light and have started a whispering campaign that UNITE are jeopardising Honda’s continued commitment to remaining in Swindon.

UNITE have some extremely good shop stewards in Honda, and they have had good support from their full time officer, Jim D’Avilla, but the stewards have experienced some real hostility from shopfloor colleagues as a response to management’s campaign. It is a thankless enough task being a shop steward, Honda are presumably seeking to create a climate where shop-stewards find the going so tough that they give up.

This is a very serious challenge to UNITE, because if Honda succeed, the anti-union consultancy will tout their services to other UK car-manufacturers. Fortunately UNITE have recognised the scale of the challenge, but this is also a wake up call for the whole labour movement, that we need to mount a sustained campaign to advocate the virtues of trade union membership and representation.

This article is also available as a leaflet, and has been distributed in Honda: is-honda-out-to-break-the-union.pdf

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