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Co-operation not confrontation
says Digby Jones

September 9 2003 - Addressing delegates at the TUC Annual Conference today, CBI Chief Digby Jones called for trade unionists to turn away from the language of confrontation to a constructive agenda that meets the needs of the constantly changing and ever increasing demands of a competitive, globalised economy.

Digby Jones said:

"Business leaders don't always get it right but more do than are ever given credit for and we must be mindful of the need to set a good example when it comes to salaries and pensions. The UK wouldn't have one of the world's most successful economies if it wasn't for the talent and sheer hard work of both your and my members. The reputation of the UK as the investment location of choice is due to several factors - the macro-economic stability delivered by this government, low inflation, low interest rates, low unemployment and sustainable growth - but it is also partly due to modern trade unionism. My members don't want that to change and they are not alone.

"Our disagreements are always well documented but we do have common cause in many areas. We still pay three and a half million people to go to work every day who are illiterate and that is half the number of adults in this country who cannot read and write. Together we should tackle this shameful situation with renewed vigour.

"In the area of Government procurement we are totally on the same side. Using UK tax-payers' money to create jobs in France or America can't be right. Competition is an excellent self-improver but sustained investment in training, kit and research and development will only follow when we have the secure order books that our competitor nations enjoy, often unfairly.

"Companies are not whinging when they make clear the temptations to move overseas. I can tell you now - and I have private meetings with senior business leaders every day of the week - the threats to our jobs are real and I am worried. The UK has to retain its pre-eminence as the place to do business in Europe and beyond. If we want quality jobs for ourselves and opportunities for our children we must not fail to rise to the challenge, but the methods of yesterday are not the answer.

"Today's challenges are difficult for employees and trade unions as well as business. New working methods, re-training, different shift patterns, any change - large or small - can be achieved successfully in a spirit of co-operation and with positive 'can do' attitudes", he said. "Businesses have to put good communication at the top of their list, but just saying 'no' lets down the very people who have most to gain."

Digby Jones went on to highlight the opportunities for a real step-change in our public services.

"The spirit of adaptability that has characterised the trade union contribution to, for example, a vibrant UK car industry, shows just what could be done in the delivery of our public services, especially now that much needed and long overdue additional money has been provided.

"Patients, parents, pupils and passengers must come first. You may be at the sharp end as deliverers - and I don't know what we would do without you - but you are customers as well. You know that dedication and money, although vital, are not enough. The government's agenda for reform is here to stay, to make the most of that money and dedication. The need for productivity gains are just as important, no matter where the money comes from.

"Your members, working with government, business and the voluntary sector, have a once in a life-time opportunity to secure and sustain the improvements we all want to see. Let's make our legacy one of which our children would be rightly proud. Let's not throw it all away."

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