The traditional system

In the atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s in the UK many businesses gave considerable attention to their pluralistic, union-management – policies. The competitive pressures of the 1980s and 1990s coupled with a reduction of the bargaining power and ability to mobilise workers into strike situations considerably lessened the territory available for unions to negotiate over. Managers too seemingly learnt a lesson, getting their own house in order and investing in policies to unify (unitary) the whole organisation.

This team endeavour coming, togetherness and individual performance in the firm also came at a time when corporate down-sizing was being pushed to the limit. Harmony with job losses – it seems to be a massive contradiction. This reflects the weakness of the individual’s position in a recessionary situation. In parallel, worker rights have been steadily protected by government reducing the scope for employees to act as a collective. Individuals are now protected far more than previously.’Relations prior to 1971 and indeed for most of the 1970s could be described as a system of collective representation designed to contain conflict. Voluntary collective bargaining between employees and employer’ associations was the central feature of the system, and this process of joint regulation was largely concerned with pay and basic conditions of employment, especially hours of work in industry, and legal abstention on the part of the state and the judiciary.

During this period and, in fact, for most of the twentieth century, the British system of industrial relations was characterized by a tradition of voluntarism. The Donovan analysis The high incidence of disputes and strikes, the perceived power of the trade unions and some well-publicized examples of shop steward militancy (although the majority were quite amenable) contributed to the pressure for the reform of industrial relations which led to the setting up of the Donovan Commission. This concluded in 1968 that the formal system of industry-wide bargaining was breaking down.Its key findings were that at plant level, bargaining was highly fragmented and ill-organized, based on informality and custom and practice. The Commission’s perception was for a continuation of voluntarism, reinforced by organized collective bargaining arrangements locally, thus relieving trade unions and employers’ association of the ‘policing role’, which they so often failed to carry out. This solution involved the creation of new, orderly and systematic frameworks for collective bargaining at plant level by means of formal negotiation and procedural agreements.

Since Donovan, comprehensive policies, structures and procedures to deal with pay and conditions, shop steward facilities, discipline, health and safety, etc have been developed at plant level to a substantial extent. The support provided by Donovan to the voluntary system of industrial relations was, however underpinned by a powerful minority note of reservation penned by Andrew Shonfield in the 1968 report of the Royal Commission. He advocated a more interventionist approach, which began to feature in government policies in the 1970’s. Interventionism in the 1970’sThe received wisdom in the 1960’s, as reflected in the majority Donovan report, was that industrial relations could not be controlled by legislation. But the Industrial Relations Act introduced by the Conservative Government in 1971 ignored this belief and drew heavily on Shonfield’s minority report.

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It introduced a strongly interventionist legal framework to replace the voluntary regulation of industrial relations systems. Trade unions lost their general immunity from legal action and had to register under the Act if they wanted any rights at all.Collective agreements were to become legally binding contracts and a number of ‘unfair industrial practices’ were proscribed, individual workers were given the right to belong or not belong to a trade union but no attempt was made to outlaw the closed shop. But the Act failed to make any impact, being ignored or side-stepped by both trade unions and employers, although it did introduce the important general right of employees ‘not to be unfairly dismissed’.The Labour Government of 1974 promptly repealed the 1971 Industrial Relations Act and entered into a ‘social contract’ with the trade unions which incorporated an agreement that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) would support the introduction of a number of positive union rights. These included a statutory recognition procedure and in effect meant that the unions expressed their commitment to legal enforcement as a means of restricting management’s prerogatives.Statutory rights were also provided for minimum notice periods, statements of terms and conditions, redundancy payments and unfair dismissal.

The 1980s – curbing the trade unions .The strike-ridden ‘winter of discontent’ in 1978 and the return of a Conservative Government in 1979 paved the way for the ensuing step-by-step legislation which continued throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990’s. The ethos of the Conservative Governments in the 1980s was summed up by Phelps Brown (1990) as follows:People are no longer seen as dependant on society and bound by reciprocal relationship to it; indeed the very notion of society is rejected. Individuals are expected to shift for themselves and those who get into difficulties are thought to have only themselves to blame. Self-reliance, acquisitive individualism, the curtailment of public expenditure, the play of market forces instead of the restraints and directives of public policy, the prerogatives of management instead of the power of the unions, centralisation of power instead of pluralism.

The legislation on trade unions followed this ethos and was guided by an ideological analysis expressed in the 1981 Green Paper on Trade Union Immunities as follows: ‘Industrial relations cannot operate fairly and efficiently or to the benefit of the nation as a whole if either employers or employees collectively are given predominant power – that is, the capacity effectively to dictate the behaviour of others. ‘ The government described industrial relations as ‘the fundamental cause of weakness in the British economy’, with strikes and restrictive practices inhibiting the country’s ability to compete in international markets.The balance of bargaining power was perceived to have moved decisively in favour of trade unions which were described as ‘irresponsible, undemocratic and intimidatory’, while the closed shop was described as being destructive of the rights of the individual worker. Developments since 1990 Kessler and Bayliss (1992) commented that ‘the needs of employers have increasingly been towards enterprise orientated rather than occupationally orientated trade unions’.

They also noted that: ‘It is clear that the significance of industrial relations in many firms has diminished.It is a part of management controlled operation – a branch of human resource management. It is no longer a high profile problem-ridden part of personnel management as it so often was in the 1970’s. ‘ Guest (1995) noted that the industrial relations system may continue as a largely symbolic ’empty shell’, insufficiently important for management to confront and eliminate, but retaining the outward appearance of health to the casual observer: ‘Management sets the agenda, which is market-driven, while industrial relations issues are relatively low on the list of concerns.

‘ Conclusions of the Workplace Employee Relations Survey (WERS) 2004 The results showed some significant changes (from 1998 survey). Most striking of all, perhaps, was the continuing decline of collective labour organisation. Employees were less likely to be union members than they were in 1998; workplaces were less likely to recognise unions for bargaining over pay and conditions; collective bargaining was less prevalent.Even so, the rate of decline seemed to have slowed down from that seen in earlier periods and the joint regulation of terms and conditions remains a reality for many employees in Britain: one-half of employees were employed in workplaces with a recognised trade union; one-third were union members; and 40 per cent had their pay set through collective bargaining. ‘ 3 Determining the role of trade unions and its contribution to effective employee relations Introduction ‘Trade unions are a form of representation of the people at work.Their very basic purpose is to protect and improve people’s pay and conditions of employment.

They campaign for laws and policies, which benefits the working people. The very reason these institutions exist because an individual worker has very little power to influence decisions that are made about his or her job. They are the only institutions that give a voice to workers, whose circumstances are often neglected by those in power. Unions seek to act as sectoral and occupational unions for the common defence of employment, economic and social rights.

They conduct social dialogue with government and employers’ organizations; represent employees’ interests in state and municipal institutions and courts of law; provide expert consultations for drafts of laws and other legal acts and prepare proposals for amendments; and protect the interests of employees in relations with employers. A labour union or trade union is defined as a commercial entity consisting of employees or workers having a common interest, such as all the assembly workers for one employer, or all the trades’ workers in a particular industry.The union is formed for the purpose of collectively negotiating with an employer (or employers) over wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment. The concept of trade unions began early in the industrial revolution where more and more people left farming as an occupation and began to work for employers, often in appalling conditions and for very low wages. The labour movement arose as an outgrowth of the disparity between the power of employers and the powerlessness of individual employees Unions were illegal for many years in most countries.

There were severe penalties for attempting to organize unions, including execution. Despite this, unions were formed and began to acquire political power, eventually resulting in a body of labour law, which not only legalized organizing efforts, but codified the relationship between employers and those employees organized into unions. Many consider it an issue of fairness that workers be allowed to pool their resources in a special legal entity in a similar way to the pooling of capital resources in the form of corporations.Today a government imposing a ban on joining a union is generally considered a human right abuse. Most democratic countries have many unions, while most authoritarian regimes do not.

All sorts of jobs and industries are covered by trade unions. Some unions represent people who do a particular job or work in a specific industry – for example, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), represents journalists, and the Union for Finance Staff (UNIFI) is made up of people who do different jobs in the financial sector.Other unions include a mixture of people in different jobs and sectors. The biggest unions in Britain – the GMB, UNISON and the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) in Australia represent people working in a range of different occupations and industries in the public and private sectors. Often this is because unions have merged with other unions so that they can increase their membership and their influence.

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