Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Friday Forum

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Friday Forum

Article excerpt

Byline: By Graham Robb

The word "wildcat" has a ring of glamour about it. It conjures up Red Adair putting himself in danger to extinguish oil fires.

However, the `wildcat' action by British Airways staff last week was merely an unwelcome return to illegal secondary protest that inconvenienced thousands of families on their holiday.

It also put Britain in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. I was in Spain when it happened and it featured on all the international news bulletins at a time when the UK is trying to persuade tourists to return after the London bombs.

What should be done? The law is in place to make it perfectly possible to sack the illegal strikers and recruit workers who have respect for their contracts of employment and, most importantly, their ultimate paymasters ( the customers. But sacking workers who have broken the law is not as simple as it seems. British Airways knows from experience that the industrial tribunal system can deliver even more bad publicity and expensive awards against employers.

I am a partner in a public relations firm that is regularly asked for an assessment of how much bad publicity will be generated if an employer faces an industrial tribunal. My answer is always the same; the publicity is irrelevant ( we'll handle it. If the employer thinks they are in the right they should use the tribunal system to advance the case vigorously. With proper information the media will report it in an even-handed way. Sadly, we encounter many cases when the employer caves in and pays off the protagonist to avoid publicity.

It has been reported recently that the numbers of industrial tribunals are falling. The suggestion is that recent changes make it more difficult to take an employer to tribunal, my own view is that more employers are settling before it gets that far.

There are some noble exceptions, two examples spring to mind.

A nursing home business, for which my firm acts, sacked a male nurse who had physically abused an elderly patient. The police investigated and because the manager was a potential witness at the criminal trial the company could not meet with the nurse in order to go through the conventional sacking process. …

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