The spirit of co-operation

David SouthernThose old (and wise?) enough to remember the last recession will tell you it was a time of cut, thrust and confrontation. Of deadlock, wild cat strikes, picket lines and walk outs.

All too often both employers and employees would emerge from the process financially or commercially wounded – sometimes fatally.
 
This recession, though deeper, sharper and likely to be longer is undoubtedly refreshingly different. I believe that employers and employees throughout Lancashire are increasingly finding that common objectives persuade them against retreating into opposite corners in a legal fight to the death.
 
For employers, many can still remember how difficult it has been in recent years to recruit high calibre staff and keep them.
 
They believe and hope that this recession won’t last forever and wish to emerge ready to capitalise on the green shoots of recovery with a trained and stable workforce. For employees the desire to maintain continuous employment and see the recession through seems heightened.
 
Whether this is driven by the urgent need to keep up mortgage payments, or a spirit of co-operation that acknowledges the link between company and personal well being, is difficult to determine. My experience over the last six months suggests a bit of both but the result is the same.
 
The consequence of this new ‘intent cordial’ is the Voluntary Agreement. In simple terms it means that employers and employees are increasingly reaching unanimous agreement to set aside contractual arrangements in favour of either voluntary working time or salary reduction for a period until the business recovers.
 
This way the long term interests of the parties involved are at least given a fighting chance of survival.
 
Of course this new spirit of co-operation may not last forever and not all parties do adopt this approach, for example, the dispute with Royal Mail and its employees and the recessionary length, depth or ‘double dip’ may see more examples of us back to snarling at each other across the picket line.
 
But for now at least, a refreshing common sense prevails that may be lost on my younger counterparts – but not on those of my profession who bear the battle scars of the previous bitter economic conflict.
 
David Southern, chairman and head of employment law, Marsden Rawsthorn.