Key Trends in Employee Relations

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Trends in Employee Relations

For the last 25 years, lots of changes have been observed in the arena of employee relationship in the UK. Almost all the norms which were considered to be major in the industries of England have been done away with. This has occurred as the kind of work people do has changed, also the kind of workplace that the people are in has changed over the years. The changes in structure have also brought about a change in the culture. The attitude of employers towards their employees and vice versa has changed tremendously over the years. On course of this book, you will come across lots of changes that have affected the different areas of the workplace. All areas of HRM activities have changed henceforth. However the most astounding of changes have occurred in employee relations. You can say that the different changes have progressed at different speeds in the various fields. You will find lots of workplaces in the public sectors, where even today the traditional models of employee relations are followed. The governments have come and gone trying to undermine these things. Hence as a result of this, in the present times, there exists, a lot of variety in approaches in different sectors of industry than it was in the past. 

Trade union decline

The most striking of changes that has been seen, is the lessening in the number of people who join the trade unions. Even if these people join, they do not take part in the activities of these unions. In the United Kingdom, the number of memberships had reached its pinnacle in the year 1979. It was seen that more than 13 million people, which is roughly 58% of all employees had opted for being member of the unions for trade. In the years that follow, there has been a decrease in the numbers continuously for every year. The older members of the unions have retired, and new people have not substituted them. In the year 2002, the membership was seen to be standing at just 7.3 million. In the most recent times, there has been some decrease in the deterioration of numbers. Some unions have also claimed that they have seen some increase in membership. This has happened as more number of people has become a part of the workforce. However the density of the trade union has kept decreasing for the past two and half decades now.

Key Trends in Employee Relations 2The decrease in the number of people started in the year 1979 itself when Margaret Thatcher had been elected as the Prime Minister of England. The different actions taken by her and her government has often been cited as the main reason behind the decline of the trade unions in the country. During the period of 1980s many number of menacing laws were passed and that did not at all helped with the decline in the different unions.

The legal attacks on the unions as they tried to recruit more members came when different regulations were made. As a result of this, it was impossible to keep up with any kind of secret arrangements. Becoming member of a particular trade union was actually made compulsory in some places in order to get employment there. This was a major step and millions of people were affected by it, especially those who worked behind closed doors. This however did not cause direct resignations from the union on a large scale. The decrease in the number of members may have happened because of the laws passed in 1980s as well as early part of the 90s. This was done to bring down the number of strikes happening in the company. Therefore the union itself found it difficult to bring forward its issues via industrial action. Not much evidence though remains to support this kind of claim. Hence it can rightly be said that anti-union laws are not to be blamed for bringing a lessening in the number of members in the United Kingdom. This is more ascertained by the fact that the number of members are still in the decline in the present times.

The primary cause of the decline of the trade unions is not because of the policies taken up by the government, but rather because of restructuring of the various industries that has taken place across the world. All the different already established industries, in which the presence of the unions was a regular feature is no more so today. These industries include that of mining, shipyard etc. The jobs which have gone away from these sectors have gone to the sector of servicing. The service sector, do not have too much of unions. The sizes of the places of work have become less too and that has impacted the tendency of the different employees to join various unions. The number of factories having big assembly lines and employing lots of people has decreased. Instead of this, different small scale offices have come up which engage in lots of technology based sectors. The style of management in various workplaces, even if large scale in nature is a little personal in nature and it’s like going with the flow. Different kinds of problems and disputes even protests for bringing a rise in the salary are discussed face to face and in an informal manner and no involvement of trade unions are required.

In the different private sectors, lots of small scale workplaces are present and hence many alternate forms of employment would be available too. The qualified people will therefore never be out of jobs. When various receptionists or executives are not satisfied with their present job or their place of work or boss, they can readily quit the job and look for another one. They do not really require making too much of an effort to find the job. The economic condition present now also guarantees that the amount of money that he or she was earning did not lessen. Hence the people are not too much concerned with the job; they are obviously less concerned about maintaining a particular job unlike their predecessors working in the mines or other such industries, where one person would be providing with all the employment. To tell it in short, presently there are many other ways to solving problems and saying goodbye to unhappiness at workplace.

In the year 1998, it was shown in a study that 47% of the total number of companies in the USA, did not take in people who were members of the unions. There were thousands of companies, which had no significant presence of the unions. In the present times, most of the people prefer working in an office which had no influence from the unions. Hence the relationship of the employees is needed to be studied more elaborately as different kinds of relationships exist. All the traditional kind of approach taken previously does not really work anymore.

There is a distinct kind of spilt observed in the public sector. The public sector was actually the place where the different kinds of age old methods could be applied with ease. Some adaptations would be made of course. In stark contrast, private sectors are usually large in size and without the presence of a defined union body. There is no presence of any union and management is what drives things forward.

The fact whether the decline of the trade union is a continuous process and will go on forever, is highly debatable. Lots of views are present regarding it. From the view of the trade unions themselves, there is of course the prevalence of a sense of pessimism. This is because; even after years of propaganda and effort to recruit new members the efforts have proved to be futile. The numbers of people, who wish to join these unions, have decreased in a dramatic fashion. This suggests that they do not anymore see that joining a union is a lucrative business. Back in the year 1991, it was seen that 37% of the members of the workforce in the age group of 25-34, belonged to the unions. After a decade of this, the number of people belonging to the union and below 30 years of age reduced to 16%. The growth of the industries had been phenomenal during that period. These new industries were not used to the idea of unions and did away from them anyway. This can be made really clear from the fact that other than few jobs of the public sectors, most other does not have any unions anymore. Engineers, consultants, nurses, hair dressers in salons can come unde4r this category.

An alternative explanation regarding this is that the trade unions had faced such declines previously too, but they had always recovered before, but things turned out to be different this time around. The proof of this has been provided by Kelly who told that in the 20s and 30s, the densities in the unions were as low as 22%. This obviously got recovered later on. He had a theory of ‘long waves’ to prove his claims. He says that the different workers would be putting up with the tortures and exploitations before going on to fight against the employers again in a united fashion. People actually get courage from the fact that different people belonging to the class where unions do not exist, do not support them at all and will not ever be wishing to join them, including young people. In polls conducted in 2001, it was seen that 50% of the people said that they were likely to join a union if it was present in their place of work. These figures put the battle in a 50-50 position. Hence it has become clear that the use of the unions would be able to create a kind of revolution themselves if they are marketed as well as organized in a proper fashion, even in private sectors.

Window on practice

The trade unions mainly face problems in getting members from places which are also called dispersed sectors. Here actually the different employees lay scattered in small places of work throughout the entire country. The people are seen working in quite small teams which can even include less than six people. Hence the traditional approach of unions which included communicating from a higher authority to people such as stewards from shops is not quite practical. Hence different new methods and technologies are required to be used such as SMSs sent from phones and alerting these people.

In spite of different difficulties, the big unions have enjoyed some successes over the years. This has been done by setting up of special sectors for people who work in dispersed environments. The IRS will provide you with lots of good examples regarding this matter. The union of GMB has actually started looking for professional sportsperson as well as drivers and sex workers. The Union for transports as well as workers in general have also set up unions and enrolled more than 2000 people working in small nurseries. You can say that the most famous success story was seen in the case of clergy and church workers of Amicus. This union has got 2500 members for now and has also succeeded in ensuring that the right of the Clergyman would not be dismissed off in any manner.

Collective bargaining and industrial action

One of the major effects which was felt after the decline in number of members in the union, was a continued decrease in the number of people whose terms and conditions for a particular job was set according to collective bargaining. In this particular segment too lots of lots of changes have occurred. In the present times, it has been observed that people have moved on from a position where many members worked in companies having proper trade unions to places where most people were not working in them anymore. In the year 1970, it was seen that more than 80% of the people belonging to the general workforce in the UK, belonged to jobs determined by collective agreements. In the year 2003, the percentage stood at 35.6.

Key Trends in Employee Relations 3Lots of deep changes are known to have occurred in the various sectors which remain under collective agreements. In the past few decades, it has been observed that a division of the collective bargaining of national level has occurred. It started from the middle part of the 20th century. These agreements are quite rare to found in places other than public sectors, where they continue to flourish in full scale. Here you will find various terms and conditions which cannot simply be found in places which do not come under the public sector. These things are agreed upon, at the industry level and would be involving people of the unions as well as associations of employers.

The resulting agreement would ensure that all people in the entire industry would agree to it. In the year 1960, it was seen that 60% of the employees in the UK came under collective agreements suitable for functioning of the industries. In 20 years’ time, the percentage had fallen to 43 and in the next two decades it further plummeted down to 14%. The other agreements which remain, can be found mainly in the public sectors and have come under attack of the ministers of the government, according to whom bargaining is an efficient and fair way of disbursing off the money of the common public.

One of the biggest changes when it comes to employee relations is a decrease in the numbers of industrial action in the present times. Quite opposite to perceptions which have been held primarily, the workers from the UN have always been inclined to take part in industrial actions than those in other countries. In the 70s and 80s, it was seen that innumerable working days were lost as a result of strikes.  Even governments toppled owing to the occurrence of these strikes. This kind of situation, can be averted entirely now.  The strike rate in the UK in the recent times, have actually been below average, when compared to countries of the EU as well as outside it. It was on the higher side only for once in 1992. The strikes do not actually affect the patterns of voting anymore. The number of strikes occurring actually varies from one year to the next. In the year 2002, it was observed that there was an increase owing to disputes present in the firefighting service, but the average trend has been on a downside. The number of days, which are lost due to occurrence of strikes, is now actually a fraction of that 30 years back. You can find it out by viewing table 20.1.

The rise of employment law

Till coming to the 1960s, Great Britain did not have any kind of law for employment. Other than providing some protection for the different young workers or some health schemes, the government actually ignored and maintained distance between both employers as well as employees. This also came to be known as the voluntarism principle and hence the performance of the UK was bound to differ from that of other fully industrialized country. The different workers or employees were told that they could get into any kind of contract that they wished for and the state was not liable for deciding what the people wanted or set some standard. The courts provided some methods for constructing contracts of the employees. These contracts were supposed to come into effect if any one of the concerned party wanted to change them in a one sided manner without taking the permission of the other party. Getting protected from the unjust practices, were hence initiated by the managers and the abuse of the power were handed over to the employers by the state unions only by use of the collective agreements.

In the last 30 years, this situation has changed completely. It was in the year 1965, that the first form of modern day employment legislation came into effect. This was a right that redundant workers accepted with open arms. They were now able to get payments in form of compensations. In the years that followed, it was seen that a completely new sector of law practice had formed that intervened time and again in ensuring that employment relationship stayed healthy. There has been a decrease in the size as well as influence that trade unions had on the people. The law, has actually made it possible for the workers to have some rights of their own and stop the various employers from acting without the presence of good enough employee relations procedures. In the recent times, lots of developments have taken place in the entire Europe, the governments of UK have also tried not to lag behind. The law of unfair dismissal was formed in 1971, discrimination on basis of sex in 1976. From the year 1974, you will see a law regarding the health and safety measures of the people and an inspector would be present to ensure that everything is followed properly. Different regulations, regarding transferring of undertakings came into effect in 1981. It was also something that was required to be consulted in a collective manner on course of redundancies.  There has been a kind of acceleration in the last decade or so. Laws have been formed which prevents discrimination from occurring on basis of disability of individuals. A minimum amount of wage is also required to be paid to the different individuals. The people would be having some restrictions concerning the working hours. It will not be mandatory for companies to have duly recognized unions or unions at all. Many new measures have come into place which looked after families of workers. No discriminations are allowed between the part time employees and the permanent ones. The year 2003 was a landmark one as new regulations were formulated which prevented discrimination on the basis of gender as well as religion. The people having the responsibility of running a family were also provided with improved rights. It was in the year 2004, new resolutions were made which solved disputes that existed in workplaces. In the next year, new resolutions were passed in the field of information technology; legislations have also passed concerned with discriminations concerned with age of the people.

You will notice that the various employment tribunals in the present times look after many different areas of jurisdiction. Different kinds of claims reach the court every day, including claims from new employees as well as ex-employees. You will see that there are many kinds of claims present in the different laws, regarding contracts. These can even be taken up in the various county courts. In one year, 100,000 claims get registered in the Tribunal on an average. Hence the governments are forced to bring about a reformation of procedures and also differ the type of remedies for the cases where the party does not stand a chance to win. Lots of developments have been taking place in the sector of employment law, in a n accelerating manner. Hence the implementations of these new laws are on top of the priorities of the HR managers than other traditional laws regarding employee relations. In most of the workplaces, it is seen that the kind of relationship that develops between an employee and employer is in accordance to the requirements of the employment law rather than of the trade unions. This is a far cry from the situation that existed a few generations ago.

Key Trends in Employee Relations 4State your reasons for believing that the practice of employment in the UK has gone from being too unregulated to being extremely regulated in the past three decades. State your views on having an excess of employment laws. Mention the statues this law which you would wish to keep and those you wish were gone.


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