You cannot afford to ignore the IT unions

After years of maintaining a low profile, unions are flexing their muscles among the IT workforce.

After years of maintaining a low profile, unions are flexing their muscles among the IT workforce.

Union concerns centre on job losses resulting from offshore outsourcing and job security and pension rights in UK-based outsourcing deals. Industrial action has been threatened if offshore outsourcing causes the exodus of UK IT jobs predicted by some industry analysts.

Many user companies and suppliers recognise unions that represent IT staff and deal with them on a range of workplace issues. Much of the time the negotiations are not particularly controversial, covering issues such as staff training or appraisal schemes.

For busy IT managers, unions can make staff consultation on major projects easier by providing a single point of contact. And despite becoming increasing vocal about controversial issues such as offshore outsourcing, the IT profession is far from being a hotbed of union activism.

Only between 5% and 10% of IT professionals working in the UK are union members, although in public sector IT departments this figure can be up to 50%.

Organisations are increasingly having to deal with unions. Insurer Direct Line, for instance, was accused by banking union Unifi earlier this month of ignoring the interests of its staff by refusing to negotiate with it over a proposed relocation of its IT department. Direct Line insisted that it is consulting staff closely on the proposed relocation.

So how should IT chiefs and their boards handle the growing union presence in the industry?

The first step is to recognise and deal with unions representing IT staff. Ignoring them will only fuel resentment among workers and consume time and resources. Experience in dealing with unions could also strengthen the CVs of IT decision makers.

There is room for compromise. Unions are not totally opposed to outsourcing if it is properly explained and job losses are minimised. But they are prepared for a fight if deals are pushed through without proper consultation.

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