One of the modern shibboleths that businesses seem to worship is that of contracting our wherever possible. Hire an outside contractor when you need to rather than managing that activity yourselves. But what if that activity is pretty crucial to your business and what, even more importantly, if it is crucial to your reputation?

Here in the UK the tanker drivers who deliver to Shell gas stations are about to strike, and the report is that Shell is “locked in talks” to prevent this happening. But Is Shell really “locked in talks?” I doubt it. Remember that Shell walked away from involvement in oil product distribution years ago when they sacked their drivers and “contracted out”. The drivers work for independent contractors and neither the contractors nor the drivers owe any loyalty at all to Shell. In the past the drivers were Shell employees. Sure there were industrial disputes but in my experience the drivers and other blue-collar workers were part of the Shell family in the UK and essentially loyal.

Within Shell there was an expert team working on Industrial Relations whose task was to understand the needs and aspirations or unionised staff and to dialogue with their representatives. I’m not saying that it was a golden age, but at least there was a forum for debate and discussion and at least we were all in receipt of a Shell pay cheque at the end of the month. That all went when Shell stopped employing drivers and the basis of a dialogue just does not exist any more. Shell may be talking with the contractors’ bosses – but I doubt that they are talking with the drivers or their representatives…

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