Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Unions support smokers (sometimes!)

There are varying accounts of this initiative to force smokers employed in the Belgian civil service to clock out for smoking breaks. The Telegraph's report (the first one I read) said that it's a matter of maintaining a good image for the Council – it's unsightly to have smokers associated with the council, sets a bad example to the community, or whatever. (Clearly this image problem has been brought about by the smoking ban itself.) Other reports focus on the time lost while going for a smoke – the employers declare smoking the equivalent of going shopping, but most people would state that it takes little more time than going to get some coffee or to the toilet.

Both versions agree that unions disagree with this move, and have already spoken to the French press, insisting that smokers are as productive as non-smokers and they view the new requirement to clock out for smoking breaks as discriminatory.

So you can count on your union to back you up? Not in this country, it would seem, if unions at Breckland Council, Norfolk, are anything to go by. The requirement to clock out for smoking breaks was supported by 'council management, unions and workers'.

Changes of this nature to the substance of people's working conditions should be resisted by unions – that is surely what unions are for – to reject unilateral changes by managers. Not a lot said about unions supporting workers (who smoke) on this issue – I did find this opinion piece, though. While acknowledging some union strengths it also attacks the unions' failure to defend smokers in decisive terms – well done.

Unions did, to their credit, resist an attempt by NHS Grampian to ban smoking on the premises of all its hospitals two years ago. This ill-fated policy was soundly and deservedly attacked on this blog also. Welcome though this is, it is also important that all union members who have paid their subs continue to receive support on all matters affecting their terms and conditions of employment.


Michael J. McFadden said...

Unions used to be firmly against smoking bans. Then at some point they acquiesced to supporting them provided smokers were given extra smoking breaks. Of course, once things were established a few years down the road... bye bye go the smoking breaks.


Anonymous said...

I take a smoking break while my colleagues are having their morning coffee, at lunch time and during the afternoon coffee break. I take neither coffee break, both of which stretch from the official twenty minutes to anything up to forty minutes several times each week. I would like someone to come and record the time I spend smoking and the time my colleagues spend drinking coffee and chatting about last night's TV and compare them. I bet I use a lot less time on my habit than they use on theirs.