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Shell Experiments with New Approach to Labour Relations

April 1, 1985 -

For almost seven years Shell Canada has been successfully using a unique approach to labour relations at its $200-million Sarnia chemical plant. While the plant was still at the drawing board stage, management and the workers' representative, the Energy and Chemical Workers Union, began collaborating in the development of a new working style that would more fully satisfy the needs of both parties. As a result, the workforce consists of six teams, each with twenty members and two coordinators, and a team of tradesmen. Employees receive on-the-job training for a variety of skills, and are thus able to rotate their assignments. Work team members develop their own work schedules, participate in resolving operational and employee problems, and even make the decisions on the hiring of new team members. The union local's president, Bob Huget, said:

We recogn ize that the company has to be efficient to survive and that we have an obligation to help improve productivity . We operate here with a great degree of openness. I think there is a great waste of talent in other companies because management is not willing to listen. There is just too much time and effort consumed in adversarial relationships elsewhere (Wilfred List, "Sarnia Shell Plant is Labour Test Case," The Globe and Mai1, February 11, 1985). 

Those looking for imaginative ways to improve relations on the job, to increase both job satisfaction and productivity, and to create new jobs within a healthy economy would do well to investigate Shell Sarnia's success at making work a more responsible, productive and rewarding activity.