Refreshingly different HR
Essential Trading is one of the largest worker co-operatives in the UK. The organisation is as passionate about equality as it is about providing healthy, organically-sourced, Fairtrade food.
When 120 workers have an equal voice, this can present certain challenges for the organisation. Our HR experts have ensured that the co-operative meets its practical and legal obligations, whilst remaining true to its fair-minded ethos.
Essential Trading worked with us for many years back when we were ‘PES’. They now enjoy the same great service from Amba.
What were the challenges?
- A non-hierarchical, co-operative structure comprising a rotating management committee, disciplinary and grievance panels, and a welfare panel to support wellbeing. As the organisation had grown, workers didn’t necessarily have the skillset or experience needed to effectively address the issues arising in a larger workforce.
- A committed and enthusiastic HR team, but with limited practical and technical HR experience.
Making HR work flexibly
- As the Co-op had grown over the years, policies and procedures had evolved over time to become unwieldy and were not fit for the purposes of a larger organisation.
- Multiple versions of key documents (such as worker handbooks and contracts) created confusion and inefficiency.
- Essential had a need for flexibility – to work with HR in a way that is clear and legally compliant, while allowing the organisation to take the time it needs to make decisions in a truly egalitarian way.
How did Amba help?
- We worked with Co-op members to streamline policies and procedures by reviewing and re-writing Essential’s worker handbook and employment contract, consolidating older versions into easy-to-read documents.
- In a worker co-operative, changes require a majority vote to be passed. We attended worker meetings to explain why this documentation needed updating, to help people make an informed vote.
- Our HR team chaired panel meetings in a couple of particularly complex situations, ensuring the Co-op members decisions on these matters were legally compliant, leading to good outcomes for everyone involved.
- Our willingness to listen and work with Essential led them to appoint us as a retained HR partner. Since then the relationship has gone from strength to strength.
What was the result?
- By reducing policies and documentation, we saved administrative time and effort for the HR team, helping them carry out their roles more effectively.
- Our day-to-day coaching and support helped grow workers’ skills, so that procedures run more smoothly.
- We understand what Essential is trying to do, so our support is pragmatic, common sense and tailored to a very specific set of needs. We gave professional advice and support while allowing the co-operative’s ethos to flourish.