Unlike many of the fresh young legal faces I come across in the course of representing clients in the area of Employment Law, I’m old (and wise?) enough to remember the last recession. 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 and in my opinion refreshingly different. Employers and employees are increasingly finding that a convergence of needs persuades 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 organisational 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. The recessionary length, depth or "double dip" may see it off and we’ll be 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.
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