Using and organising of social partnerships


This essay will demonstrate the meaning of the term 'employment relations' according to different sources and will include the different initiatives and schemes of that term. This paper seeks to provide the answer to the research question and will analyse critically the benefits and concerns for the initiatives and schemes involved, I will investigate how the initiatives affect the 'trade unions' in terms of their decline in membership and their influence. Trade unions have been decreasing in influence and it is in this essay that I will explain why that is and also how to rectify the on going problem. In order to answer the question, research will be carried out through various journal articles, academic literature and via the internet. There will also be a conclusion at the end of this essay where by I will be summarising the paper and highlighting the main findings and arguments within the topic discussed.

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According to Heery and Noon (2001), "employee relations' is a common title for the industrial relations function within personnel management and is also sometimes used as an alternative label for the academic field of industrial relations. The term underlines the fact that industrial relations are not confined to the study of trade unions but embraces the broad pattern of employee management, including systems of direct communication and employee involvement that targets the individual worker", "employee relations involves the body of work concerned with maintaining employer-employee relationships that contribute to satisfactory productivity, motivation, and morale. Essentially, employee relations are concerned with preventing and resolving problems involving individuals who arise out of or affect work situations", (Heery and Noon 200, pg 53).

Trade unions are organised groups of employees who consist of workers of one or more job description. These organised groups represent people at work and the reason that they were formed was to protect the interests of their members against the employers. Trade unions exist because an individual worker has very little power to influence decisions that are made about his or her job. By joining together with other workers, there is more chance of having a voice and influence. The trade unions in Britain have played a very big and critical role within the British industrial relations. In order to provide a united voice in defence of trade union rights, they established the Trade Union Congress which would be held every year to discuss issues of importance to the labour movement. The Trade Union Congress established in 1868 and represents the political arm of the trade union movement, existing as a basic affiliation of member unions. It was mainly formed to give trade unions a political voice, and an organisation whereby unions could make debates about the affairs and issues of the trade union movement as a whole.

The basic functions of the Trade Union Congress are political, in terms of its pressure group activity, and administrative, providing a range of services such as shop steward training. The TUC only occasionally is involved in strikes and mediates in inter-union disputes. The TUC has a near monopoly of representation, with high levels of union affiliation at over 80 per cent of trade unionists. In terms of representation, the TUC elects the General Council of approximately 40 members to run its affairs and carry out different policies between each annual congress. The most important functions of the Trade Union Congress are, as a regulator of trade unions in terms of inter-union conflicts, service provision for affiliates particularly in the areas of education and research but also financial and legal services, as the spokesperson of the trade union movement as a whole particularly in representations with governments and in seeking to influence economic or employment policies and as a spokesperson for affiliates in the international arena like the European Union or solidarity links with trade unionists in other countries.

The decline of union membership has many causes such as changes in the economy that have led to fewer male industrial unskilled workers and the fall off of the manufacturing sector has also contributed. In the last two decades the trade union movement has declined by more than half and that decline accelerated in the l990s. From a peak of nearly 14 million members in l970s, the TUC now only represents less than 7 million workers, one in four of the workforce. The ever changing structure of the British economy which has been unstable has led to a decline in trade union membership. There has been an increase in part-time work, more women are in work and more people are working for themselves, this has had a huge impact in the decline, all these groups are harder to organise in unions then the full-time manual workers.

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Trade unions have always been in partnership with the manufacturing industry and now that it is being shifted to the service sector, this has also contributed to the decline in membership. According to the BBC News they state that, "one result of the decline in the union membership has been a big change in the structure and composition of the TUC", the TUC has been trying to restructure and organise their ways, (accessed on 07/12/09). According to Blyton and Turnbull (1994), "for trade unions, the progress of HRM has posed a number of new problems, sometimes challenging the fundamentals of organisation or purpose, and other times giving a promise of a new partnership role. Some of the political and ideological limitations of trade unionism in capitalist society, which has formed part of the Marxist debate on trade unionism, have been exposed to these new techniques, which operate at the ideological as well as the industrial level", (Blyton and Turnbull 1994, pg 56).

According to Rose (2008), "human resource management became increasingly practised in Britain during the 1980's, and the growth in the uptake of HRM has coincided with a steady decline in the importance of industrial relations and collectivism as significant features in the management of the employment relationship. It also coincided with a decline in the membership and influence of trade unions", (Rose 2008, pg 39). However, on the other hand, HRM seeks to provide better quality by seeking and maintaining reward management, leadership, motivation, training and development and also recruitment and selection. The branches of HRM are designed to merge organisational integrations, involvement and participation, flexibility and work quality. Having survived unemployment, legal attacks, privatisation, deregulation and all the other onslaughts of Capital during the Thatcher/Major years, the trade union movement is having to come to terms with a new, subtle, but possibly far-reaching challenge under the guise of the 'new management techniques', referred to by one writer as "avoiding trade unions by kindness", (N Millward 1994, pg 3).

According to Stephen Machin (2000), "the overwhelming factor underpinning falling unionization was a failure to organize new establishments set up in the last twenty years or so", (Stephen Machin 2000, pg 631). The organisation of new establishments is one of the factors why trade unions are in decline and have been since the 1970's. When analysing the decline of trade union membership and the strategic options available to them, understanding how they went about their partnership with employers is a vital aspect in trying to find a possible solution and indeed any changes that could reverse the decline. According to John Goodman (1984), he describes collective bargaining as "a process through which representatives of employers and employee organisations act as the joint creators of the substantive and procedural rules regulating employment", (Blyton and Turnbull 2004, pg 226). Legislation has also taken its toll on the decline of trade unions as there are limitations to what they can do and how they can implement their ways. According to Blyton and Turnbull (2004), "evidence suggests that, recent legislation notwithstanding (Employment Relations Act 1999), it has become harder than ever for unions to gain recognition in new companies, new sites, or in those industries where recognition has always been difficult to achieve", (Blyton and Turnbull 2004, pg 228).

Collective bargaining and piecework bargaining is a major part of the social partnership, it is a method used in employee participation, whereby it regulates the employment relationship in the process of negotiation between the representatives of management and employees. Through collective bargaining employees might be more participative as they are not involved on an individual basis and as a result might increase their contribution. This could be of benefit to the organisation in terms of employee contributions based on their level of knowledge and experience. According to Daniels (2006), "employees will be more comfortable with the collectivism approach because it directs the spotlight away from them as individuals and onto the group, where they are likely to feel less exposed", (Daniels, 2006, Pg 16).

The social partnership is a term that has been used for many years and describes and explains the relationship between both trade unions and employers. This partnership plays an extremely important role in trade union organisations', having this partnership means that there will always be business for them and like any relationship it has to be worked at and looked after from both parties. According to Heery (2002), he states that the term social partnership can be divided into four levels, European, state, economy and company. Each level explains how social partnership has an influence on employee relations and trade unions. Both political and economic situations are reasons for the decline in trade unions. According to Blyton and Turnbull (2004), "for unions to embrace both organising and partnership, either separately (organise the 'bad' employers and offer partnership to the 'good' employers) or sequentially (start with an organising campaign and then develop a partnership over time) is problematic", (Blyton and Turnbull 2004, pg 137).

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The social partnership and organising strategies are two aspects which are highly important when identifying strategic options available for trade unions. According to Blyton and Turnbull (2004), "a Labour government was elected promising a statutory union recognition procedure and a 'new partnership' approach to employee relations. This presented unions with something of a dilemma as the case for organising is the 'opposite' of partnership", (Blyton and Turnbull 2004, pg 136). In trying to uplift the decline in trade union membership the TUC has been trying to produce new organising strategies, organisation is highly important as it makes way for new establishments. According to Blyton and Turnbull (2004), "organising is based on union militancy, partnership is based on union moderation", (Blyton and Turnbull 2004, pg 136).

When studying the topic of trade unions and their decline, we can implement different theoretical perspectives in order to provide answers about their influence in the business environment and their relationship with organisations and employers. The first framework is the Unitarist perspective, this framework states that both management and employees share common interest in terms of how the organisation is run and managed. There is only one source of authority and that is the management. In terms of workplace conflict, it is caused by poor management and poor communication; it has to be avoided in order to not disrupt the relationship. With trade unions this perspective sees them as an unwanted disruption and intrusion within the workplace, they create conflict where none would otherwise exist, and lastly in terms of collective bargaining, they produce a division of interest and they serve to create workplace conflict rather then resolve it. The management style is paternalistic (which is a softer approach) and authoritarian,

The second framework is the Pluralist perspective, this framework states that managers and employees have different objectives and views, and there is a multiple source of authority. Conflict within the workplace is inevitable and caused by different opinions and values. With trade unions in this perspective they are not the cause of conflict within the partnership and are a legitimate part of the workplace. The role of collective bargaining deals with problems on a collective basis, the most efficient means for institutionalising employment rules and there are fairer outcomes by balancing employee and management power. The third framework is the Marxist perspective; this framework identifies a wider class of conflict between capital and labour. Conflict is inevitable as capital seeks to reduce costs and workers seek fairer prices for labour, trade unions are encouraged to raise the awareness of strikes. Also known as the radical perspective, it opens up areas of power and can be extremely useful, Marx went into producing the idea of Capitalism, where an organisation needs money invested in it so it can succeed.

The scientific management theory can also be implemented in this area of employee relations. An early 1900s movement that elevated the status of managers and held that scientific observation of people at work would reveal the one best way to do any task. This theory was produced by Taylor (1914), according to Bloisi et al. (2003), "Frederick Taylor's assumption that the interests of management and employees could be integrated through the principle of economically motivated self-interest emerged scientific management", (Bloisi et al. 2003, pg 7). Scientific management (Taylorism) is closely linked with Capitalism, both produced by Frederick Taylor in the 1900s. According to Blyton and Turnbull (2004), "taylorism (scientific management) - that employees have an inherent dislike of work and must therefore be coerced, controlled, directed and threatened with punishment if they are to exercise the required level of effort, with financial reward acting as the only motivator", (Blyton and Turnbull 2004, pg 106).

In conclusion, there are many factors that have influenced the decline of trade union membership, from increased feminisation, part-time work, short-term contracts, growth of white collar working and casualisation to political, economical and social unrest within the country, these factors have all taken their toll on trade union membership. This essay has analysed trade unions in many forms of reference, explained through various theories (Taylorism, Capitalism and Braverman) and through different frameworks (Unitarist, Pluralist and Marxist). In order to produce strategic options for trade unions to consider, we have to analyse the factors that brought about their decline, although trade unions are seeing a rise in their membership after so many years, they are still very vulnerable to external influence. One strategic option available to trade unions is the organisation of recruitment strategies within the TUC Organising Academy. Organising strategies are in of improvement after the unrest of the political situation that left the unions in decline, Thatcherism. After the conservative party, trade unions have been trying to re-organise themselves as an integral part of the employment relationship, where they have had a re-launch of their structure and collective bargaining process, according to Rose (2008), "the TUC has a crucial role in shaping strategies to counter union decline, recognising the limits to what individual unions can achieve without the assistance and guidance of a concerted overarching strategy", (Rose 2008, pg 178). Heery (1998) states that "the TUC re-launch reinvented itself by re-structuring its administrative and decision-making system and by attempting to generate a 'new ethos and sense of mission'", (Rose 2008, pg 178).

Another strategic option available to trade union recognition is the topic of the social partnership. Securing a relationship with employers is a difficult process as the trade unions are representing their employees. According to Oxenbridge and Brown (2002), "in general, union rights were greater in those companies that had informal partnership relationships than they were in those companies which had formalised partnership agreements with unions", (Oxenbridge and Brown 2002, pg 269). The social partnership's main focuses is on building relationships with employers, but it could have an effect on the trade union memberships. Trade unions have to organise their employers and memberships and retain their existing memberships, working especially on those who they have a partnership and relationship with. The economic climate has taken its toll with employers and trade union alike but taking a positive perspective will help with the decline of the memberships. According to Machin (2000), "failure to organise the new establishments that were set up in the private sector in the last twenty years or so is central to falling unionisation", (Machin 2000, pg 642).