The Changing Fortunes of the British Trade Union Movement Since 1979

Most organizations exist to achieve certain goals which it seeks to achieve by engaging employees. To achieve these goals, most of these employer organizations establish a relationship with their employees and provide them with tools required to assist them in understanding the management’s goals and policies and to yield performance delivery. Almost anyone will agree that a solid employer-employee relationship offers the ultimate contribution to satisfactory productivity and motivation in the workplace (Vassie, 2000; Salamon, 2000).

Employee Relations is on a large scale involved with the act of preventing and finding solutions to differences that may affect employees which take place within the work environment. There is a considerable body of existing literature in employee relations. One particular paper by Farnham and Giles (1995) analyzed union membership trends in the UK from 1979 until the mid-1990s and confirms the conventional wisdom that there has been an overall substantial decline in membership from UK trade unions despite population growth.

Purcell et al. (2003) concentrated on the carrying out of HR on employees’ potential, providing incentive and possibility due to a favorable combination of circumstances to practice unrestricted activities and views employee relations as a critical ingredient in the ‘black box. Armstrong et al. (2011) attempted to find out why many organizations do not estimate the efficiency of their compensation policies and exercises and scrutinize the approaches used by those organizations which do assess the recompense for worthy acts that the management illustrates how the appraisal of the value of employees is usually carried out. Wilson, 1988; Lewis et al. 2003 suggested that managements should adopt a more open and participative approach to employee relations, involving not just individual employees, but also their representatives.

Pendleton and Robinson (2010) discussed findings from a research survey orchestrated by British governmental departments and research institutions of the British Workplace Employment Relations Survey and used it to examine that productivity in the workplace is affected by the combination of employee stock ownership (ESO) plans and participation in decision making. Rodriguez (2010) presented empirical evidence about HRM practices in Chilean organizations intending to provide an overview of employment relations and argues that “HRM practices in Chilean organizations illustrate the normative perspective of modern human resource management discourse, where managers understand the nature of employment relationships to be the control of workers” (Egan. 2005).

Aryee et al (2009) presented the results of a study that investigated the relationship between job performance and psychological ownership. They found statistically significant correlations between psychological ownership, job dedication, and social-exchange based employee-organization relationships. Psychogios et al. (2010) brought in the employment relations circumstance from a diversity of capitalism way of regarding situation and established that exceptional concentration is granted to the uneven character of alteration at all the stages of company and performance. They concluded that employers are more likely to be forced to contemplate new social compromises and that there exists a relationship between sustainable economic recovery from a financial crisis such as the one experienced in 2009 and this kind of social compromises by employers in their relations with employees. Metcalf (1995) explains that collective industrial relations are crumbling and a substitute to that will be to take in employee participation and strict types of administrative center governance.

Sound employee relations should be based on effective mechanisms for communication and participation, a safe and effective work environment, commitment and motivation of employees (Robbins, 2005). A successful employer policy will thus encompass the promotion of channels of communication with its employees, and identification of common areas of interest within its employees, an accommodation of differing perspectives wherever possible, the encouragement of staff to articulate concerns and conflict, and the seeking resolution of underlying issues and the provision of channels for conflict resolution and the development of mutual trust in their reliability (Rollinson, and Dundon, 2007).

Furthermore, the representation of employees should not be undermined by the employer’s recognition of the principle of freedom of association (Daniel, 2006). And, in such instances where employees choose to have a trade union represent them, employers should make arrangements for recognition, collective bargaining, and dispute resolution. Trade unions, in and of themselves exist to achieve several goals which include but are not limited to the improvement of the terms of employment; the improvement of the physical environment at work; the security of employment and income of employees; the social security; the achievement of industrial democracy; the achievement of public control and planning of industry so that the purposes of collective bargaining, job safeguarding, and co-operation with employers may be achieved as a result (Johnson et al, 2008).

For industries where unions exist, employers are obligated to deal with workers as a collective unit with common needs rather than individual employees with unique needs. The power vested in these unions is an encouragement drive for individual employees to protect themselves under their abode. Employees in suspicion of victimization or coercion will usually have no haven than in the trade unions as they feel protected from being coerced into involvements against the terms of their contract (Hollishead et al. 2003).

Exchange of information, ideas, and views about matters of mutual interest and concern through both formal and informal channels and by consultative committees will usually improve employer-employee relations (Hiltrop, 1996; Leat. 2007). By this engagement means, grievances will reduce and corrective discipline can be enforced directly or indirectly. Also, standards of performance will be improved as employers continually communicate their views and perspective through team-working and by the provision of training and supervision (Waring. 1996; Salamon. 2000).

Under normal conditions, employers fit into place a plan of action on work-life stability to establish or strengthen constructive workplace conducts. Hyman and Summers (2007) assessed the influence of different forms of organizational representation on the provision of work-life balance employment and found that “employees influence work-life balance issues in the financial services sector, and work-life balance initiatives had greater breadth, codification and quality where independent unions were recognised” (Bridgford, and Stirling, 1994). They briefly expressed the pervasiveness of management schedule and the administration’s freedom to act or judge in the procedure of concerns and employees’ recognition of this schedule.

It is a common belief that health is wealth and the causality of these two phenomena can be in either direction. While some industries have been reluctant in the provision of health facilities for their employees, others consider it of utmost importance for the sake of efficiency and performance delivery (Bing et al., 2009). By industry standards, safe health provisions are necessary for the form of insurance, access to medical care, and protective measures. The responsibility of maintaining a safe and healthy working environment is not limited to the employers; the employees should also not be careless and should maintain compliance with company and regulatory health and safety guidelines as well as to implement other recognized safe work practices (Cotton, 1993).

While conflict management is still a very key concern in organizations, intermediation is a convenient way of resolving workplace issues as most organizations try to focus on positive behaviors and outcomes (Blyton, 2004; Rose, 2008). If not properly checked, conflicts may nullify the long-term efforts of hard working management and may bring about the decline of employee relations.

In pre 1979 times, unions were exempted from all liability in tort, and individual organizers of strike activity were protected against situations where their action was taken in order to encourage the promotion of a settlement of a trade dispute. Legal exemption was accorded to these unions and this protected their right to organize as well as their right to strike. Parliament usually intervened to protect the unions from liabilities arising in the course of their actions. And, collective bargaining developed to the point that minimum and basic wage rates were set at industry level for the most of the sectors. To a very large extent, court intervention was neutralized and their mediation had no significance in industrial dispute or enforcement agreements. This right was later revoked by civil law in the early 1980s. It could then be said that to the degree that these unions sought to regulate wages and conditions to control the supply of labor, they were acting to constrain trade. The enactment of the employment act of 1982 made it possible for the trade union itself to be sued in any civil wrongdoing and thenceforth, unions were made responsible for the acts of certain officials and committees in organizing industrial action and they faced the prospect of injunctions prohibiting industrial action. Any failure to comply with these rules resulted in fines for contempt being levied by the court and, if necessary, collected by a judicial writ authorizing the seizure of individual properties.

From the point where the conservatives took over power in 1979, there has been noticeable changes to the British industrial relations law with a succession of legislative measures that contracted the scope of labour union actions in that unions thenceforth also became financially responsible for civil wrong doings by their protesting members, and government support could no longer be asserted for collective bargaining.

A number of factors are responsible for the decline in trade union membership. The first is the change in the composition of employment due to manufacturing de-industrialisation and downsizing. Another, self-employment on the rise as well as the expansion of service sector employment coupled with the deregulation of the labour market and privatisation. Other factors of a macroeconomic stance are due to higher core unemployment in 1980s and early 1990s as well as lower average price inflation. With the failure of unions to attract new members in industries with low levels of unionisation such as agriculture and education and de-recognition of unions by some employers, it was certain that membership had to decrease. To counter this problem, unions started implementing various novel strategies to try to neutralize the turn down of their partisanship. As established by Farnham and Gile (1995), the fate of the unions will depend on the success of these strategies.

To say in fact, there has been a few trade union legislation acts in Britain from 1980. The employment Act of 1980 for example restricted secondary picketing while that of 1982 imposed the removal of immunities for civil actions. In 1984, there was a trade union act enacted and its major theme was that the secret ballots for election of union officials must be conducted every five years. Wages act came about in 1986 to ensure that manual workers are given no formal right to be paid in cash. In 1988, the disciplining of non-strikers by unions was made illegal by an employment act and another employment act in 1990 ensured removal of immunity from virtually all forms of secondary action and thence came the extension of potential liability of unions when industrial action is taken.

An attempt for amelioration was embarked upon in the trade union reform and employment rights act of 1993 where there was independent scrutiny of pre-strike secret ballots and employers are entitled to seven days written notice of intent to strike while employees became free to join the trade union of their choice and customers of public services were provided with legal means to restrain unlawful actions. It was during Tony Blair’s Labour government that de-recognition issues were tackled in the 1999 fairness at work proposals that aimed at increasing trade union recognition.

According to the Labor Market Trends in June 1998, there was quite a great deal of variations in the recognition of unions by employers in different sectors. While the least was experienced in the agriculture and hospitality industries, energy utilities, education and public administration experienced the highest variation

Across the world over, the percentage change in international union density has been negative on the average. Although New Zealand, France and Australia had higher percentage changes in their union densities, the United Kingdom had a negative 27.7% change since 1985 to rank fourth.

Furthermore, the decline of national industry-wide collective bargaining marked another changing pattern. In 1984, 64% of workers were covered by collective agreements. By 1990, this figure had dropped to 47%. Changing patterns of industrial action in the UK has resulted in fewer national strikes. And the most of these strikes were concentrated in service sector with one-day strikes and overtime bans more popular.

While factors such as dismissals, work practices and redundancy in industries contribute to the cause of an industrial action, it has been noticed over time that the pay received by employees contributed the most in the cause.

New unionism in Britain already started with a merger of weaker trade unions. Together, they involve in focused campaigning and the re-establishment of cordial relations with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) while making a pro active attempt to close the representation gap in the service sector.

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