ContAIners Worldwide LTD is based in Felixstowe. It ships containers to and from ports around the world, especially in Europe and the Far East. Competition is fierce from UK-based companies and also from those in harbour cities such as Antwerp, Hamburg and Rotterdam. Shipping companies such as Containers Worldwide face powerful clients who demand quality, low prices, flexibility, speed of delivery and transportation services at any time of day or night convenient to them. Agility is required in responding to clients’ demands and the variations in activities when loading or unloading different types of cargo. Ships need to be unloaded and loaded as fast as possible, without causing any damage to the containers or goODs.
The company employs 250 full-time dock-workers and frequently uses casual labour drawn from the harbour-wide labour resource pool. It is strongly unionized with a density of almost 80 per cent. The union has ensured that wage rates are high and that the use of casual workers is controlled. One of its main preoccupations is to achieve security of employment for its members. On the whole relations between the union and management are good, but the union has taken a strong line against the company on previous occasions and could do so again. There is a works council that meets four times a year and discusses, on the whole amicably, employment and productivity issues. There is no outright hostility to new technology but the union has expressed grave concerns about the possibility of job losses.
To achieve competitive advantage, Containers Worldwide is considering the introduction of more advanced technology to automate the process of loading and unloading containers. It has analysed the functions invoLVed in following this programme and has identified six in all, each requiring a fair degree of skill. The effectiveness of the new arrangements depends on having a reasonable degree of flexibility to provide for agile responses to changing demands at the container port. An analysis conducted by the Director of HR established that very few employees had the skills required to carry out more than one of those functions, which would seriously restrict flexibility. He also obtained from the Director of Port Operations an initial estimate of future labour requirements, which suggested that there would be no change in the numbers of full-time employees but that fewer casual workers would be needed. However, he was told that this estimate was unreliable – more information was required about the impact of the new technology and future activity levels based on forecasts of the demand for container shipments.
The Director of hr raised at the Board his concerns about how the introduction of the new technology should be dealt with, taking into account the people and trade union issues involved, emphasizing that this constituted a major change management challenge. He undertook to put forward recommendations on how this should be tackled at the next Board Meeting.
Outline the recommendations that the HR Director might make on the HR and industrial relations strategy that should be adopted.
The recommendations should cover:
1.The preparation of a more accurate forecast of future labour needs with an indication of what information would be needed to get this done.
2.The implications of the requirement for greater flexibility, which implies multi-skilling and therefore a special training programme.
3.How the union should be handled, including the information it should be given, allaying fears about job losses, dealing with the possibility of hostility to increased flexibility and/or a request for guaranteed security, and what should be done about any claim it would make for increased pay following the multi-skilling programme.
An actual container firm handled the multi-skilling aspects of this programme with the full cooperation of its union by instituting training programmes to develop multi-skilling, agreeing the basis upon which employees could be employed in a variety of ways depending upon the nature and intensity of the workload, and introducing skill-based pay – a pay increase the moment an individual qualifies as BEIng fully trained in a new function.