ACE 2012 - Trades Unions Can Be Allies Not Adversaries

Darren Hockaday, Human Resources Director, LOROL (London Overground Rail Operations Ltd)

Come along to Darren Hockaday’s HR leadership masterclass at ACE on Wednesday afternoon for a very special message from a trade union leader…

When we took over London Overground in 2007, an official review had just described it as “shabby, unreliable, unsafe, and overcrowded". Today we’re the UK’s fastest-growing train operator, with 120 million passenger journeys a year, and customer satisfaction is running at 92%.

We’ve got 1200 employees at LOROL, and 85% are front line staff – drivers, conductors, station staff, train care and revenue protection people. When it comes to the type of monumental change we were facing, we made sure we got our employees on board at a very early stage. Engaging them with our ambitious goals was really important. We wanted to turn London Overground around – to create a railway that wasn’t only profitable, but also efficient, clean, a pleasure to travel on, and a great place to work.

We also communicated with our customers and other key stakeholders. For us, it was absolutely critical to get the unions on board from an early stage. Some organisations prefer to keep the unions at arm’s length. I’ve always viewed them as partners. I nurture relationships with them. We meet up regularly, rather than just meeting when there’s an issue to discuss.  Having a constant conversation means that we avoid many conflicts – and if a problem does arise, we’re in a better position to address it together. We’ve usually anticipated it. We respect the fact that I have a company position to negotiate from, and that unions are concerned about representing their members. We understand the protocols.

At LOROL, our good relationships with the unions has been pivotal to our transformation.  We’ve achieved a complete turnaround in industrial relations in volatile climate. We agreed a long-term pay deal, restructured terms and conditions to enable business growth, and have completely avoided strikes and disputes. We even negotiated special deals during the Olympic period, which was a really busy and exciting time for us, and a huge success. All of this has also contributed to building trust across the business.

If you do get a chance to come along to my CIPD Conference session on Wednesday afternoon, you’re in for a bit of a surprise. You may just find there’s a special message from a major trade union leader just for you.

Session H4
Wednesday 7 November
Using HR Leadership to Unite your Organisation and Successfully Adapt to Change

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  • Anonymous

    This is a very refreshing take on employer-employee relations. I too had a great working relationship between my HR team and the leading trade union in my previous organisation. It was difficult to get it to this state but once we appreciated that we held the same principles (i.e. happy staff = successful organisation = employment security), they rest was (much) smooth(er) sailing. Of course, this didn't mean we always agreed with each other but it made our discussions a whole lot more productive...!