Mike: Network engagement with unions


Trade unions have a bad name with recent post, rail, tube and flight disruptions. But they are agitating for workers’ rights, as they were founded to do. And it appears the old claim the mobile sector is immune to recession has been found false, belatedly.

Because this maturing market cannot sustain itself on sliding revenue and profitability. Its protagonists have to change – both culturally and in terms of innovation.

Which is why Vodafone has laid off staff, to cut the fat and make itself agile as a challenger brand in the market for the first time. It is impossible as an outsider looking in on the leafy Newbury campus not to see the wisdom of its cuts.

However, familiar tales are emerging from Newbury, Stoke and Warrington of sackings issued like mafia-style hits. The truth of it is hard to determine. But no organisation appears to go about redundancies in quite the same heavy-handed way.

It is this point trade unions are fighting on. Vodafone, like Carphone, apparently wishes for no union involvement, or association with an archaic blue collar construct.

O2’s case is different. It has legacy ties with the unions, and better representation within them. Its wrangle over a pay increase comes because there is an apparent conflict between its workers’ growth in income and its own. Five per cent sounds like a lot, although the unions held out of seven per cent recently for Post Office workers.

But there is a sense O2 is mindful of its job in hand, and the investment it must make urgently in network and initiatives to keep pace with a new network king. Problem for O2 is, workers are paid in arrears for good work done.