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Many things have been written about the Industrial Relation field regarding the unionisation or non - unionisation of the workplace in Ireland. Academics and professionals alike have been debating the subject, considering the best option to follow. However, this has been done without any great success, due to the fact that union density has been decreasing and the number of companies working in non-union basis is increasing. This paper will critically discuss the trends of the non unionisation in Ireland using the arguments from Dr. Paul Mooney's book and it will also try to bring other similar researcher's points of view into play. This paper will begin with a brief description of the book, and it will then discuss the main ideas or trends mentioned in the book concerning the non-union issue.
Paul Mooney, in his book Union-Free: Creating a committed and productive workforce attempts to highlight a new point of view for development of the non-union sector in Ireland. He bases his reflection on the differences between the traditional model of industrial relations and the new model, studying the competitiveness on the markets and the economic, political and company/employee relationship changes; highlighting the advantages and disadvantages for companies which work in a non-union basis, explaining the human resource practices in both sectors unionised and non-unionised and why recently companies have been taken the non union view as a practical model. Even though the author shows strong non-union thoughts in his book, it is necessary to highlight that he has recommended to non-union organisations to concede the recognition of TUs due to the fact that the conditions of some organisations are not the appropriate ones to run on a non-union basis.
In the early 1960s, the influence of the foreign investment, which was encouraged by the Taoiseach during this period creating structure such as IDA or the Export Tax Free Relief Zone, (Mooney 2005) motivated employers to begin thinking in a non union basis. In the beginning, it was primarily in smaller companies but subsequently these were followed by larger companies coming from countries without a union tradition that were using soft human resources strategies, trying to pass off or avoid union services. A range of factors provoked the development of the non union sector in Ireland within the industrial relations system for the last ten years. Mooney identifies three main factors which have emerged in the last decade; such as the economic environment, political climate and lastly the new relationship between company/employee. Mooney's reasons for no union philosophy growth in Ireland are due to the fact that economies such as Ireland's move towards the services industries where the part-time worker is increasing and demographically the workforce is changing. Roche (2001) reinforced this by saying 'the larger the size of workplaces the less likely they are to be non-union. The higher the proportion of staff working part-time the greater the likelihood of non-recognition. The rate of temporary working, on the other hand, is associated with a lower incidence of non-recognition'. All the factors mentioned above are provoked by the legislation in Ireland and new policies in place, such as socials partnerships, soft human resources practices etc, which have made the work environment less rigid. Nonetheless, the third reason why the company-employee relationship is changing could be explained under the new philosophy of high commitment work system which companies have been trying to introduce into the workforce. This new philosophy has been labelled as the 'new model of industrial relation' which tries to leave the Unions outside of the negotiation role. However, there is nothing new about these affirmations, due to the fact that Roche (1997) suggested that the influences on Trade Union decline were provoked by cyclical, institutional and structural factors which could explain Mooney's view of the current situation. On the other hand, Wallace, J (2003) in a conference about the future of the trade union highlighted, taking statements from unions members themselves, the problems of trade unions density might have been produced because of the lack of renovation with the unions, meaning that they are no longer relevant, they do not appeal to younger employees, they are old fashioned and need to adapt or modernise, they need to be more service oriented, and they need to concentrated on recruiting the new worker: female, part-time workers, temporary workers and those in the services sector.
Strategically, the recognition or non-recognition of a union within the workplace could be an advantage for companies that either want to look for the most interesting model for them that somehow facilitates the achievement of goals such as competitiveness or flexibility within the market, or for companies that are only looking to avoid this stakeholder which could be seen as an interference group. As Mooney underlined in his book, companies might identify their strategies or their status on one of the following: status quo, union minimization, co-operative bargaining and operation in non-union basis. Furthermore, he explains that companies which are in status quo basis could be due to the fact that they have a lack of knowledge or their managerial staff is not ready to move towards the non-union stage, or simply they do not have the skill, the philosophy of 'do nothing' being the main characteristic at this stage. Besides this, there is a second option for companies that attempt to build direct relationships with employees at the expense of existing collective bargaining framework, in other words, where unions are tolerated but sidelined, when and where the company has the possibility to do so. Mooney, as a third option, underlined the cooperation's agreements between stakeholders which have recently become well know in Ireland through the National Partnership. Finally, union avoidance, which companies in Ireland are now looking for as a strategic idea, such as the case of Coca-ola nowadays, where companies attempt to convince employees that they do not need third parties representation and services. This particular philosophy might be better demonstrated by companies such as Ryanair or Coca-cola. In Coca-cola it could be seen more as the strategic movement towards avoidance, due to the fact that Coca-cola was unionised plant when located beforehand in Drogheda, closing that and opening in Ballina, becoming the main producer of concentrate for the beverage. Therefore, it could be said that the strategy to follow for companies would be plant by plant basis, as Mooney highlighted in his book, providing a clear advantage to companies which have different locations and thus, creating different strategies depending on the plant and its background. Mooney finishes by adding that there is no single best option for companies; instead it is the company that will seek to find the option that can best help their business strategic. It goes without saying that running a company on a non union basis has some advantages but at the same time might have serious drawbacks. Strong communication, high commitment and internal tools to repair conflict within the workplace could be the effects of operating in a union free environment. Mooney underlined three possible advantages such as flexibility of labour, direct communication/problem solving with employees and acceptance of authority. The drawbacks for the company are, however, the fear of the possibility of a union approach due to the weakness of the managerial staff, non real commitment between management/employees and the cost of the human resources department. In his book he highlighted four causes: Cost, stability, human resources commitment and the increase of administration burden. There are also benefits for individuals emphasised by Mooney such as higher wages, rewards system recognises good performance, no payment union subscription, no fear of wages losses due strikes etcetera. But the disadvantages for the individual are quite incredible as the individual and the organisation have different interests. Whether or not the purpose of an organisation is to make a profit, employers are constantly under pressure to ensure that resources are completely utilised and labour costs are stabilised or reduced, especially when technological and industrial changes are constantly taking place. The author also mentions lack of insurance against dismissals or redundancy, lower redundancy settlements, ignorance of legislation/conditions in other employments, decrease in control over working life and loss on negotiations. In other words, a unitarism model in its more dictatorial form could arise in a business where there is no union and an unscrupulous management.
Mooney then compared HR practices in unionised and non-union companies, stipulating that the recruitment process in a non union sector is more rigorous because companies put more energy into recruitment. He also highlighted the engagement of the management to be seen as an extension of the employees, and he mentioned five companies he had visited where management offices were close to employees' position to ensure communication was made about any problems that arose in the company or the managers own problems. Another example is management participation in social events which is much higher in non unionised companies according to his research. Hence, as he explained himself, non unionisation could be an environmental solution for problems such as communication or facilitation.
In the past two decades, some of the most significant changes in employment relations in Ireland have taken place and different stakeholders have been questioning the relevancy of trade unions in the workplace. As a result of the developments in human resources policies and practices, both the workforce and management are forced to consider the need for the TUs movement to disappear. But undoubtedly even nowadays, when Irish industrial relation is still changing, conditions and others workforces' rights must be kept, better policies put in place and better legislation. There is no doubt however; that there are advantages for both employers and employees with this new industrial relation model. But, what has to be considered at the same time is that there may also be a significant number of drawbacks both of these groups. Thus, the question is whether or not the Irish society and its workforce are prepared to cope with the change. It would be impossible to finish this paper without adding that Mooney has left this insightful handbook for all those interested in the subject, clearing up explanations on the non union philosophy for employees, and including a non union assessment tool and non-union materials for managers.
ROCHE, WILLIAM, 2007. "Developments in Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management in Ireland", ESRI Quarterly Economic Commentary, spring, Dublin: The Economic and Social Research Institute.