Every so often an issue comes along which gathers together my values and synchronistically opens up vistas.
I listened to RTE 1 radio news this morning, as I usually do. I was in one room playing with Grace on the carpet, encouraging her to turn over unaided for the first time. (She didn’t.) The radio was in the kitchen. The K-Club got a mention I immediately got up from the prone position and hurried next door.
Greenkeepers in dispute with golf club management: a trade union official being interviewed. It seems that that the people who maintain the greens, the fairways, the rough, the bunkers, the tees, the water hazards, the drains (in other words, everything except the bar, the changing rooms, the restaurant and the pro shop) are only paid 10 euros an hour by the K-Club. Alledgedly, their pay was frozen last year (effectively a pay cut). Alledgedly, greenkeepers at some other clubs are paid closer to 20 euros an hour.
This is the big year for Irish golf. The course needs to be at its best ever. Greenkeepers deliver that ‘promise’. The Irish tourist industry will be affected by what happens at the K-Club. Word of mouth advertising is a key component of Brand Ireland.
I am naïve. I think this way: 2006 is our big year; we want world class performance from our greenkeepers; so we should give them every incentive and reward them accordingly; we should increase their pay and put them on some sort of performance related bonus.
According to the Trade Union man, greenkeepers have always been poorly paid. (I see it as a ‘vocation’) The Union had only 6 members until he held a meeting. 30 attended and now the Union has more members. But it does not have a collective bargaining relationship with the Club. The K-Club has the legal right not to negotiate with the Union and it does not intend to engage in such negotiations.
I imagine the K-Club management is keen to drive down costs, increase efficiency, show that it can run a tight ship, especially this year. The Ryder Cup will be no gravy train for staff. The Chief Executive is probably rewarded on financial performance. So I can see why management mightn’t want to allow ‘wage drift’ or trade union recognition. You can imagine how time consuming it would be to discuss staff wages and conditions.
Is this a classic case of management sticking to its knitting, doing what it knows best: resisting demands from staff?
I’m not given to charitable gestures, like giving the company’s money away unnecessarily. Omani is no soft touch. Greenkeepers are another overhead. If the company can keep that cost under control, it can repay shareholders and members more generously, and management can earn its performance- related bonus.
But hold on. Where is the vision? Where is the risk assessment? What if the greenkeepers go on a go-slow? Go on a quality-containment drive? In other words, what if the staff limit their contribution to the enterprise. What is the risk that an intangible feature of the customer experience will be lost? People might not say: “it was in amazing condition“. They might simply say it was “great“. They might not say: “the Irish know how to do it best…” There might be long term fallout, all over the shop.
Trade Unions are ancient beasts. They come from an industrial age. They sit uneasily in this information age. While living standards are going up and up, while increasing numbers of workers are upwardly and status mobile, aren’t trade unions only for people who work in trades? So many people have done quite nicely without any trade union lifting a finger for them. So many people have got ahead through individual effort, rather than collective bargaining strength.
“I’m all right Jack…” Until you find your salary frozen, your pension provision vulnerable… Then it dawns on you that your security is not so secure as you thought. If that happens to you, you might start thinking about “unity is strength“… It happened to me when I was working for a university (UWE in Bristol).
Greenkeepers are the receptionists of the K-Club. What they present to the customer sells the Brand. Screw them and you screw your own investment.
Trade unions are dinosaurs. But look at the number of children that love dinosaurs. Dinosaurs deserve respect and they contain a core of collective experience that is a valuable resource for determining common sense.
Just are there are managers without vision, who go for short term gain and miss the real challenge, there are awful trade union officials. But there are entrepreneurial, thoughtful and visionary managers who know how to lead an organisation through a world class challenge. And there are trade union officers worth talking to.
I’m going to bring my daughter up to bargain hard for all her rights and conditions. I’ll be no push-over. In fact, I think I’ll force her to join forces with other children in order to increase her chances of getting what she wants. I might even freeze her pocket-money. That’ll see what she made of, and prepare her for the real world.