Q&A: Des Quinn, Regional Industrial Organiser, Unite (Midlands), UK
S Kalyana Ramanathan / London March 03, 2009
UK-based union leader Des Quinn was the pointsman at Unite, the workers’ union that welcomed the Tata Group to Jaguar and Land Rover when Ford Motors had to choose between two front runners to sell JLR. Unite is the largest union in the UK with over two million members across 24 different industries.
Quinn, the lead negotiator for JLR workers in the Conventry region (Midlands), says though the current turmoil in the global automobile industry has been a testing time for all Tata Group stakeholders, the Indian conglomerate has lived up to its reputation for fair dealing with workers. He tells S Kalyana Ramanathan why his experience with the Tata Group has been unique in many ways and showers praise on JLR’s Indian owners.
Q: It has been nearly a year since the Tata Group took over JLR and the union had backed its offer. Does the current situation (including job losses) make you wonder whether you had backed the right suitor?
A: When Ford decided to sell JLR, three groups showed interest — Tata, Mahindra & Mahindra and a consortium led by Jack Nasser, a former CEO of Ford. But the union had supported the Tatas as its preferred buyer.
We were quite aware of its (Tatas’) reputation for fair dealing with its workers and it seemed to be the only one who was interested in protecting and further developing the Jaguar and Land Rover brands. Nasser was talking about a turnaround strategy with an exit through market in five to six years. Mahindra seemed to be more keen on Land Rover and with its four-wheel drive technology, the company was not too keen on taking over Jaguar. Hence, the union backed the Tata and it has been a good experience so far.
Q:Good experience despite the job losses at JLR?
A: The job cuts so far have been voluntary and not compulsory. It has been quite painless (with nine months severance pay). At the time of taking over JLR, Tatas had agreed on a few things with the union and Ford: the management would remain the same, business would continue and no (compulsory) job losses for 5-6 years. The company has stuck to this so far. This apart, it has managed to keep JLR at arm’s length till now. The only communication I get from them is a routine Tata UK newsletter.
Q:What has been the status on voting on the pay freeze at JLR that would guarantee no compulsory job cuts for two years?
A:The voting is going on and we will announce it on March 6. From what I hear, we are likely to accept it. It would be disappointing if the workers refuse to accept it.
Q:When Tata took over JLR the global economic situation was not as bad as it is today, and since then the automobile industry has gone from bad to worse.
A:The agreement with Tata though allows them to revoke some of the clauses should the automobile industry break from below, which they have not. We were right about the Tatas. Ratan Tata gave his commitment personally. He even asked us to come to Mumbai to meet the union leaders there, which was not necessary.