Fujitsu workers to strike as company dismisses chair of Unite union

Ian Allinson, Chair of Unite in Fujitsu UK, a socialist and rs21 member, was dismissed on Friday 12 January as part of a “redundancy” process that has targeted union activists. Ian was the fourth of six Unite members to be dismissed while fighting these “redundancies” at Fujitsu. We talked to Ian about the situation and the next steps for the campaign.

Rally outside Fujitsu as Ian leaves
Rally outside Fujitsu as Ian leaves

How long have you worked at Fujitsu? What has been the nature of your union work?

I’ve worked for Fujitsu for over 30 years, and been a rep for 26. For most of that time I have been leading the union in Fujitsu. We’ve built up union membership and organisation. I’m based at the Manchester site, where we have union recognition, but we haven’t yet won it across most of the company. We’ve had a number of disputes over the years, including a strike that secured union recognition at the Manchester site in 2007, and the first national strike in the UK IT industry in 2009-10.

And this work led to the company targeting you for redundancy? What events led up to Fujitsu dismissing you?

Late in 2016 Fujitsu announced plans for 1800 UK job losses, and I found I was at risk. This immediately looked odd, because my workmates weren’t at risk. The company wouldn’t explain this for some months. Eventually it emerged that they had created a “selection pool” of just nine people out of a department of over 600, and decided that all nine jobs would be redundant without any scoring. This was the only example of selection like this in the whole redundancy programme, so we immediately smelt a rat. Fujitsu has repeatedly targeted me and other reps in various ways in the past. Fujitsu intended to dismiss me on 30 June 2017 but this was delayed by the appeal and grievance procedures. On 8-9 January this year I was on compassionate leave for a family funeral when they sent me a letter saying I would be dismissed on Friday 12 January. I had an outstanding internal job application which the company hadn’t responded to, but they wouldn’t even let me work my notice while they considered it.

What justification has the company given for making the six of you redundant?

Fujitsu says its job cuts are to move more work offshore to lower-cost countries and to automate work. People are worried that the company has no real plan for the future and is just cost cutting to prop up profits in the short term. Staff feel that even if the job cuts were justified, there would still be no need to treat staff so badly. Each of the six cases is different, but there’s a worrying pattern. The majority of the six are black or ethnic minority. The majority are disabled. Two are union reps. Saj Patel had an outstanding grievance where she complained of sexual harassment linked to her selection. Fujitsu dismissed her without even hearing her grievance – in breach of agreed procedures. Fujitsu has handled all six cases badly. Two were dismissed while jobs in their own department, turned down by colleagues, had not been filled. Denis Morris was selected using scoring – but his score sheet mainly talked about his union rep role and disability, not his skills etc., and didn’t follow the official criteria.

What does Unite at Fujitsu think is really behind this attack?

The overall redundancies are partly a response to real changes in the industry, but staff don’t feel they are the right response. Keeping cutting costs may prop up profits from a shrinking business but that doesn’t offer any security for the future. People want to see investment in updating products, services and skills. What has made these redundancies particularly nasty is that they have coincided with an increasingly aggressive approach to industrial relations. Fujitsu unilaterally terminated its UK works council (against the wishes of over 90% of workers) at the start of the redundancies, stripping staff of many redundancy rights and avoiding consultation over strategy. The company increasingly just sees what it can get away with, rather than following its policies and agreements – or even the law. The union, even more than the works council, is an obstacle to this approach. As well as trying to victimise a number of the reps, Fujitsu is trying to kill the idea that it has to comply with agreements. An HR announcement shortly before Christmas argued that Fujitsu wasn’t breaking the agreements because they were “voluntary”. This really wound up workers, who feel that an employer should keep its promises even if they are made voluntarily. Many people have said that this attitude should be a worry for Fujitsu’s customers too – as their contracts are also voluntary.

And this is just the latest in a series of attempts by the company to attack the terms and conditions of its workers?

Yes, there’s a general trend in the industry towards products and services becoming more standardised commodities, and therefore workers’ skills following suit. A few decades ago a significant proportion of workers in the IT industry felt they had significant individual bargaining power as a result of specialist skills. This has been in decline and employers have been putting downward pressure on pay and conditions. It is a race for workers in the IT industry to build collective power before employers turn the industry into a really awful place to work.

What has your Unite branch done about this attempt to dismiss you?

Most of our campaigning has been over the wider issues such as the 1800 job losses and trying to extend union recognition. We had 27 days of strike action until it was suspended in May 2017. After further negotiations Fujitsu made an offer at the end of July. It was actually worse than the agreement we already had, so members overwhelmingly threw it out. Since then we had been trying to regain momentum in the campaign, but struggling to get the support we needed from Unite. Workers have protested outside several of my hearings in Manchester and London. Late last year the company’s plan to victimise me and other reps shifted things in Unite. Len McCluskey took part in a Skype call with hundreds of members before meeting Fujitsu senior management. It looked like progress might be made, but Fujitsu reneged on the promises made to Len. We’ve just re-balloted in Manchester, and members voted for further industrial action. The first 11 strike days have been announced.

Where is the campaign going next? Does this dismissal mark the end?

No, this definitely isn’t the end. The strikes start on Wednesday 24 January. Members are clear that striking alone is unlikely to be enough to win – they need a big campaign too. With Fujitsu snubbing Len McCluskey we expect Unite to provide support with the leverage side of the campaign. This should be a big political issue – around half of Fujitsu’s UK business is from the public sector. They get billions from public funds and are likely to be in the news in the next few months over the outcome of a legal wrangle with the NHS over hundreds of millions of pounds from a failed contract. Labour’s manifesto said that public contracts would only be awarded to companies that recognise trade unions, and “high standards” would be required on issues including workers’ rights, equal opportunities and training. The secrecy surrounding privatisation would be partially removed by extending the Freedom of Information Act to private companies that run public services. If Labour wanted a case study of why these changes are needed, Fujitsu is making itself a prime candidate.

None of us know whether the campaign will succeed in getting me reinstated. But even if it doesn’t, it can help make this very costly for Fujitsu – doing that makes every other union activist safer in Fujitsu and beyond. A strong campaign can also ensure that instead of weakening the union in Fujitsu, the union grows.

A lot of people worry about getting active in unions precisely because of this sort of attack. What would your message to them be?

It’s reasonable to be concerned about victimisation, which is too common. The legislation is utterly inadequate for challenging victimisation and blacklisting. But the reality is that if we don’t organise, we all get treated badly. I’ve survived 26 years as a union rep at Fujitsu – plenty of people who tried to keep their heads below the parapet have gone in that time. When employers are pushing through big changes, there is no parapet. Your best chance of fair treatment is to organise and fight back.

Finally, what can those outside of Fujitsu do now, both to help you and to support the ongoing campaign?

We will be publishing more information on our web site Unite: Our Union in Fujitsu. The Fujitsu Dispute page always gives details of how to support us and includes a downloadable appeal for support leaflet and collection sheet.

Simple things people can do now include:

  • Send a message of support to support@ourunion.org.uk or Unite the Union, Fujitsu MAN34, Central Park, Northampton Road, Manchester, M40 5BP
  • Send a message of protest to Duncan.Tait@uk.fujitsu.com, copying support@ourunion.org.uk
  • Please sign the online petition against victimisation of reps in Fujitsu, circulate it and share it on social media.
  • Donations payable to “Manchester IT Workers Group” can be sent c/o John Wood, 50 Brooklyn Street, Crewe, CW2 7JF. Or transfer funds online to account number 00980539, sort code 30-91-48 and email support@ourunion.org.uk with details.
  • Follow and promote the campaign on social media using the hashtag #FujitsuFightback
  • Like and share our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/uniteatfujitsu
  • Follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/unitefujitsu and retweet us

Strike days

  • Weds 24 to Fri 26 January
  • Tues 30 January
  • Thurs 8 to Weds 14 February

Below: show of support for Ian on Friday

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