Thomas Keating Limited
Thomas Keating Limited based in Billinghurst in West Sussex is an engineering company with a history linking it back to the late eighteenth century. They make precision press / mould tools and scientific instruments, and employ more than 30 people.
In May 2009, Acas senior adviser/conciliators, Bernard Style, who is based in our Paddock Wood office in Kent, received a customer referral from the Acas helpline. The initial call to the helpline was from a Unite full time officer who was looking for help from Acas to resolve a dispute about annual pay.
Union membership in the company was quite high at up to 50 per cent of the workforce. There had been no previous disputes about pay or any other issues. Bernard initially spoke to Malcolm Bonnett (the Unite officer) and talked through the problems by phone.
Bernard wrote to the managing director of Thomas Keating, Dr Richard Wylde, offering Acas assistance to try and resolve the situation. Dr Wylde accepted the offer and Bernard then visited the company in early August. A week later he visited Malcolm Bonnett at his office in Crawley.
The Acas collective conciliation service was thought to provide the best way forward for the company. This service is free and entirely voluntary - so both sides must agree to participate before any discussions can be entered into. Our aim is for the sides to reach an agreement they both feel will work effectively. Our involvement may allow them to make progress so that they solve their problems together later on.
In this case, conciliation included meetings in September with first union members and then non-unionised employees to obtain their views. Bernard then provided management and the union with his findings.
Discussions with and between the parties were quite complex and drawn out. The management side had set out its remuneration policy, holding to a 1 per cent offer (with the union wanting up to 4 per cent) but offering hope for the future in the shape of at least 2 per cent next time round.
This had been Thomas Keating's first experience of working with Acas. Bernard was able to persuade the managing director and his senior colleagues that Acas could contribute to dispute resolution and later improvement of employee relations via a Consultation Forum. Bernard also had to convince the Unite FTO that, despite tense union / management relationships, the best way of improving relations for the benefit of the company and its employees was via joint working.
The dispute over pay was settled in November. Bernard visited the company and the Union FTO again in January and then had a further meeting with all staff on to fully explain consultation and its benefits. He then went on to provide facilitation assistance in setting up a Consultation Forum (The TK Forum), including advice and guidance on the framing of a constitution and attendance at the first meeting of the Forum in late February.
Bernard Style, Acas South East England Senior Adviser, commented:
"In my view the management of Thomas Keating and the Unite full time official merit much credit for their willingness to compromise and then to cooperate in the setting up of a joint communications structure for the benefit of the company and all its employees".