Industry leader

Roger Seifert is Professor of Human Resource Management at the University of Wolverhampton Business School.

Roger is a leading expert on industrial relations and has been interviewed about recent high profile disputes, including the British Airways strikes, on BBC News, Sky News, the BBC Politics Show and BBC Radio 4 and 5.

His research covers a number of interesting and topical areas, and he is currently looking at the impact of government cuts on the police, fire and ambulance services and also union responses to public sector reform.

Roger Seifert’s expertise is very much in demand.

Specialising in industrial relations, he is often called upon by the media to provide his thoughts on planned strike action or negotiations between unions and employers. The interest in his research area is a sign of the times, with news stories breaking almost every day about the latest cuts in funding, pay and redundancies.

Private companies and public sector organisations have both been affected and faced drastic cut backs, and the impact is wide ranging.

Professor Seifert explains: “Union membership is growing, particularly in the public sector. People are concerned about redundancy but also working practices. They are asked to work harder, face extra burdens and more stress, and there is more absence. As a result, there is more pressure on those that remain. “In addition, there are fewer promotions and career plans are thwarted so that makes people feel disconcerted. Many workplaces have implemented recruitment freezes so the people who are at work are having to do extra – more for less seems to be the current slogan.”

There are also concerns about the extent to which the burden of recession is put onto working people, and is not shared by everybody in the country. But despite widespread worries, Professor Seifert predicts that we won’t see a general strike. “Where workers are well organised during a recession, they will tend to resist cuts, or relative cuts, in pay and conditions. The well organised ones include transport, communications and utilities workers and we would expect some flash points. In the public sector, we would expect strikes over redundancies, pension issues and pay.

“There won’t be a general strike, but there is a strong possibility of one day strikes coordinated by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) for the public sector, transport and communications sectors. These are likely to happen around May next year,” Roger says.

Taking it to the table

Professor Roger Seifert joined the University of Wolverhampton in 2008.

His wide experience includes acting as an adviser and consultant to large private and public sector companies, trade unions, and government departments. He has acted as an academic adviser to the conciliation service ACAS and remains a visiting professor in Zimbabwe, Malawi and China.

His teaching, research and publications focus on the employment relationship, state regulation and control of the labour markets, pay determination, the role of trade unions, employers’ strategies, and the public sector.

Professor Seifert’s expertise is such that in the last year he has provided comments on disputes at British Airways, BAA, oil refineries and railways as well as issues such as growing union membership, union-Labour party links and reform of public sector redundancy payment schemes and pensions.

He has been interviewed on numerous media outlets including ITV’s GMTV, the BBC News Channel, BBC Midlands Today, various local radio stations and BBC Radio 4’s The World at One and Westminster Hour.

As part of his work, Roger speaks to the people involved in industrial disputes and negotiations and has links to ACAS. But other than the ACAS negotiators, people from outside the organisations involved are not allowed into dispute talks.

Contrary to popular belief, discussions are not often heated as they are normally held with the negotiating parties in different rooms. If the talks are moving forward, the ACAS negotiators will bring the two sides together.

The public is most often made aware of employment issues through media coverage, and people may wonder why the organisations and workers can’t just resolve their problems without resorting to disruptive strike action. But Roger says the picture is often more complicated than it appears on the television.

“Industrial relations is a messy subject and the negotiations are often messy too. Outsiders get frustrated and question why the two sides can’t solve their differences, but the reason is that the issues are more complex than people think. When union leaders are interviewed about talks, they are not trying to get a message across to the managers – they are talking to their members through the media. Similarly a Chief Executive will be talking to his or her own board. And there is a lot at stake – if they get it wrong they will be sacked or someone else will be elected to the union role.

“The substance might be straightforward but the processes and practicalities are convoluted.”

Timely advice

What advice would Professor Seifert offer to the government at the moment, when painful and unpopular cuts across the board seem inevitable?

“The thing is to avoid conflict. They have to convince managers that the service at the other end of reductions will be equally good and in turn they have to convince the workforce. The key thing is strategic planning so people can see there will be an end result that is ok.”

The current economic situation is such that cuts, redundancies and pay freezes seem to affect every industry and individual in some form. It is this aspect of the subject area that makes it so interesting to Professor Seifert.

“Industrial relations is about work and as most people will at some point in their life go to work, it is a fundamental part of human activity,” he says. “It is also about the exercise of power, in terms of both market and social power, so it combines political and economic features of human life.”

Professor Seifert is writing a history of British industrial relations in the 1960s and 1970s and his current research interests include a book on union opposition to public sector reform; the reaction of ‘front line’ staff in the emergency services (police, fire and ambulance) to the government’s cuts; and papers on reform of Further Education, police pay and the experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic workers in local government.

He is also involved in two consultancy projects: one on the future of the culture sector in the UK, and the other on the reaction of staff in the NHS and local government to the government’s proposals on cuts and reforms.

Roger’s work, through his teaching, research and media profile, has helped to further develop interest in the University of Wolverhampton Business School.

It is an exciting time for the School, which has moved to the City Campus and is preparing to welcome a new Dean, Dr Anthea Gregory.

And with the economic situation remaining uncertain for many people and industries, Professor Roger Seifert’s research will continue to be interesting, relevant and newsworthy.