IN THE Hotseat this week, was Unite union’s regional coordinating officer Jim D’Avila.
Here’s what he had to say to your questions.
Q. What impact do you think will occur if the UK leaves Europe?
A. I’m a convert to Europe, prior to 1976 when the UK had a referendum as to whether they stayed in the European Union or not, I, like many Labour activists at the time campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union. However, the referendum vote was very, very clear in remaining in the EU, and since then I’ve been won over by the benefits to the British public in jobs, in general employment and overall good harmonious relationships between all the different member states.
If the UK were to decide some time in the future to leave the EU, it would certainly jeopardize employment prospects and certain jobs, so I think it would be an incredibly foolish act for the UK to leave the EU.
Q. Are the frequent rounds of redundancies at Honda purely attributable to poor sales of the Honda car range?
A. Since my association with Honda, which commenced in 1999, one of the things that I’ve always praised them about is their ability to plan for the future. It has to be said that the vehicles they currently have in the marketplace do not excite the car buying public within Europe in the ways that they had anticipated and planned for. As a consequence the employment levels within the Honda Swindon site have over the last two years decreased quite substantially following an influx of new starters in anticipation of better sales.
In redundancy negotiations this year, following Honda’s announcement to reduce the number of production workers by 500, Unite the union has established that Honda have an ongoing strategy to replace Honda associates with contract workers, paying the contract workers less money than they would have to pay Honda associates, so another reason why there’s been job losses is because of this strategy by Honda to reduce the pay costs of the manufacturing process.
Q. What do you think the reasons are when every other UK car manufacturers are reporting record sales into Europe?
A. Certainly for the last 25 years, there’s been a surplus of high volume cars in the marketplace in Europe and only the most popular and reliable and economic cars survive and currently the Honda model range manufactured at Swindon hasn’t met the imagination of the car buying public. Honda are working incredibly hard to improve the image of their model range and we certainly wish them well in that, we all want them to return to building cars that the public want to buy and to increase the manufacturing capacity at the Swindon site to a quarter of a million vehicles every year, and so increase the number of workers required, and their long term security of employment.
Q. Is there an exit plan from Honda to leave the UK or is it that Honda are exploiting market conditions to sack long term employees in favour of cheaper labour rates in the future? And what is Unite the union doing about this?
A. The major risk to Honda leaving the UK would be if the UK left the EU under the European guidelines, any car manufacturer wishing to sell their product in the EU needs to basically manufacture those vehicles within the European Union sites, and if the UK was no longer within the EU, then there’s a strong likelihood that Honda would have to leave Swindon and manufacture the European cars somewhere within the EU.
Q. Do you think there are some workers who should not legally be able to strike - such as firefighters?
A. I believe it is a basic right that all working people have, that if things at their place of work become so intolerable and they all agree that something needs to change and the employer blank refuses then following a series of discussions with the employer, if things break down, then ultimately the employees, following a majority ballot, should have the right to withdraw their labour. It’s not something that workers do casually and it happens very rarely, but to deny workers the right to withdraw their labour would be denying them some basic human principles.
Q. Do you think zero-hour contracts have a place in our economy or should they be wiped out all together?
A. Zero hour contracts should have no place in a modern society, for both employers and employees. It’s a disgrace that the amount of zero hour contracts within the UK has risen to in excess of 1.4 million. The vast majority of the workers forced on to zero hour contracts have very little security of employment and their families will inevitably suffer.
No reasonable government should allow this to continue.
Q. Is a living wage something which should be brought into law?
The last government introduced the last minimum wage in 2005, which has been increased by retail price index each year and nationally, the minimum wage currently stands at £6.31. The government are looking to increase that to £6.50 later this year, but all analysts now recognise that the minimum wage is far less than what people need to be able to provide a minimum standard of living for themselves and their dependants, so there needs to be a real move to the living wage so that workers standards improve and that jobs remain in the UK. £7.65 per hour in 2014 should be affordable by all employers within the UK.
Q. Is there still the same level of public support for strike action or do you think the public see them purely as an inconvenience?
Most members of the public are workers themselves who face day to day battles with their employers, and I think most members of the public recognise that workers only go on strike if things at the workplace are incredibly bad so generally speaking, I think the public support disputes even though it may cause them some temporary inconvenience.
Q. During your time at Unite, what do you consider to be your biggest victory, or at least the union’s?
A. My work at Unite is basically divided into two categories - one, where I deal with organised workplaces in Swindon such as Honda, BMW, SDC and such like, and we negotiate with the employer to retain or improve terms and conditions, and over the years, there’s been results particularly in more recent years with the recession that started in 2009. A large proportion of my work now is taken up with individual members of the union or small groups of members who work in workplaces where the union is not recognised by the employer but they need help and assistance all the same, and there are often horrendous cases where employers treat individual workers incredibly badly.
Whilst I feel satisfied that on an individual basis I provide a good service to union members that I have responsibility for, unless there’s a huge change in employer attitude and government attitude, the battle to maintain worker standards and employment levels will continue, both in my work, and that of my colleagues and the other unions within the UK.
Q. Does location (Swindon) have anything to do with the struggles experienced by HUM, TS Tech and Triumph?
A. Swindon historically has always had a good location in terms of communications. It sits on the M4, it’s on the main railway line to London and to Wales and it’s not far from the Midlands, or coastal ports like Southampton and Bristol. That has helped tremendously in the past in bringing new employers to Swindon. Companies like Honda and their several providers like SDC and TS Tech have benefited from that. What I would like to see now of the local council in particular and the government nationally, is a big push to bring more manufacturing jobs both to the UK and to the Swindon area.
Q. How heated do the consultation meetings get when Unite sits down with a firm which is threatening to cut jobs?
I think it’s inevitable when negotiations take place on redundancies, that could result in a large number of compulsory departures that tempers will fray. However, if we take Honda as an example, we do work together as far as we can to minimise compulsory redundancies. Our objective should be to see as many jobs saved as we can but sometimes, we have to agree to disagree and move on.