What next after the doctors’ strikes - the employee relations implications?

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Despite the government’s naïve proposals to ‘fiddle with figures’ relating to strike ballots and allow agency staff to replace striking workers to curb strikes, the on-going junior medical doctors and BMA dispute once again shows the need for some form of arbitration if industrial action is curtailed and to actually think about the impact on managing people post-disputes. This recent conflict shows how ACAS has been involved in such a process, but less can be gleaned about the HR management fall-out from it.
So, what can we learn from this? First, that despite what some might think and blithely assert, people’s views about organisations and work remain deeply polarised. We can see this in the classic dichotomy of the classic ‘Frames of Reference’ or perspectives of organisations and management popularised by Allan Fox. Basically, organisations are viewed as either: a team, stressing common purpose with one source of authority and loyalty for unitarists or composed of many groups with divergent interests and rival sources of loyalty and attachment for pluralists. Obviously, the government’s unitary stance is clear when ministers state they do not understand why doctors do not accept the changes and then threaten to impose new contracts as if they will somehow ‘solve’ the underlying issues and problems. In contrast to this, the bitter legacy of this dispute will continue and, irrespective of the potential labour turnover issues of doctors moving to Wales or Scotland (let along migrating to other countries), exactly how are the healthcare HR professionals in hospitals to behave and implement these imposed contracts in reality and practice? Furthermore, when politicians such as Jeremy Hunt are long gone and not even a footnote in history, medical doctors and hospital managers will still need to work together co-operatively and as colleagues.

Second, the importance of independent, behind-the-scenes assistance that allows both parties to continue to negotiate and not ‘lose face’ has been highlighted once again, as it was during the train and tube disputes and strikes. ACAS provides a range of useful help and assistance, from conciliation to mediation through to arbitration. However, there are a set of issues with such bodies, such as leading to the ‘chilling’ of negotiations, ‘addiction’ to the processes with ‘gaming’ the system using packages of tactical and strategic offers and counter-offers that may not be the real or final position of either side. These have led some to suggest ‘pendulum’ (taking one side’s position in totality) arbitration. Another alternative is to ‘go back to the future’ and rather than have ad-hoc arbitration have permanent systems as in the past with the late Lord McCarthy for the railways. Although this does bring its own problems of their independence being increasingly questioned over time and even producing ‘flip flop’ decisions of alternating between the sides (irrespective of the veracity of the claims) to try to be seen as maintaining their impartiality.
What next for the junior doctors? Their representative organisation, the BMA, has sought legal advice as to whether or not their earlier ballot result of November 2015, when a massive 98% backed strike action, remains a legal basis for further walkouts and strikes. If it is not, the BMA may have to call a new ballot seeking a fresh mandate for action. The results of that will be interesting.



# Kelpleage 2019-01-17 14:00
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