Targeting the most powerful employers in each of our sectors
Who are the most powerful employers in your sector? Not the ones that have the most Unite members, but the employers with most market power. These are most often the employers that set the standards others will follow. Reps fighting for better work, a stronger voice and higher pay have a much harder job on their hands when there are big, powerful non-union employers in their sectors ready to undercut and drive down standards. So, knowing who the key players really are is important for all of us. Recently though Work, Voice & Pay, our Union’s Broad Industrial Strategy we have been able to identify them for the first time.
There are reasons why this had not been done before – it isn’t easy. The best way to figure out who the biggest companies are in a particular Unite sector is to look at how much revenue they generate in that sector. But working out how much revenue a company makes from a single sector in the UK can be hard. Unite sectors - based on membership and representation - often don’t map across to the ‘sectors’ used outside the union (either based on the Office for National Statistics’ SOC codes or on certain markets for products or services as defined by investors). Lots of big companies also straddle many sectors and many national markets but their accounts tend to lump this income together. It also means dealing with moving targets, not only because the fortunes of companies change over time but also because their very structures change, as they are subject to mergers and acquisitions. And of course, we need a whole different set of criteria for public sector and not-for-profit employers.
But we worked hard to overcome these obstacles and we now know who these employers are. We call them the ‘Top 10s’ (although there aren’t always 10 of them). By matching these employers with data on unionisation we can paint a picture of each sector which can help us make decisions about how to deploy our resources.
As you will see in the following example, Top Companies in Unite's Road Transport Commercial, Logistics and Warehousing Sector, this research makes it easy to see which companies are pace-setters that can negotiate and push up and which are the under-cutters that need to be organised and pulled up to the standards enjoyed by others in the sector. The National Industrial Sector Committees have already been presented with the data for their sectors and we have recently been working on updates, including a look at how COVID-19 has changed these employers. By having a focused and targeted approach to ‘Top 10’ employers, we can build the Union and give all reps the best possible chance to raise terms and conditions throughout our sectors.
Don’t Stop Using RPI
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, many Shop Stewards will soon be negotiating new pay deals. In order to work out whether a proposed pay rise represents an increase in real terms, you need to know how the cost of living has changed over the last year. The best tool available for assessing that is the Retail Price Index (RPI), which we report in this publication.
Many of you will also know that in November last year, the UK Government announced plans to end RPI reporting in February 2030. That is a potential threat to collective bargaining. Regular Work Voice Pay Monthly readers will be aware that Unite does not consider the proposed alternative – the CPIH – to be as good at reflecting actual cost of living increases for unite members. CPIH is also calculated using a different mathematical model which tends to make it lower than RPI (hence its popularity with employers). So, we strongly advise members not to accept any proposals to switch over.
Interestingly, it would not just be collective bargaining that would be hit by the loss of the RPI. Many financial products, such as gilts and some annuities are based on RPI. Then there are all the final salary pensions whose RPI increases are enshrined into scheme rules. Indeed some of those pension funds are considering a legal challenge against the Government’s decision.
But however that pans out, Work Voice Pay has got your back. As a result of work we have conducted, the Organising and Leverage Department has plans in place that will allow us to track prices properly, creating a Unite Cost of Goods and Services Index (UGSI), using exactly the same data and formulas that the Government uses for RPI currently.
And we will not stop there. RPI is a great tool but it can be improved upon. We are currently working on a formula that will allow us to benchmark pay bargaining - a Unite Negotiators’ Benchmark. This formula will take account of rising costs (using RPI or UGSI) but also the employer’s ability to pay and Union power at the workplace, to deliver a headline figure – a basic estimate of the value of settlement that we should be looking for. Of course, this will be a guideline figure, not a hard target and on occasions there will be further mitigating circumstances that must be taken into account. However, Work Voice Pay is all about helping workers to push forwards, not fall backwards. Whatever the Government does, we will be working hard to help reps stay ahead of the game and set the pace on pay and conditions.
To use RPI automatically as part of your pay claim go to: