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Collective bargaining gives employees a voice in determining their terms and conditions of employment.’ Is collective bargaining still the dominant trade union method in the UK? Do the alternatives to bargaining satisfy the expression of employee voice?
Collective bargaining is the method which is used by employees to negotiate and bargain better employment conditions with employers. Collective bargaining was predominately practiced by trade unions which consisted of employees, past employees and unemployed professional to enhance their bargaining influence on employers. However, there are findings which suggest that the density of trade union and membership base has been falling since the 1990s. This was primarily resulted by the greater availability of channels and methods which employees can use to express their ‘voice’.
Moreover, corporations have become more responsive to their employees’ interests and expectations to retain the best possible talent in a highly competitive global market. Finally, a number of other bargaining methods have emerged other than trade unions’ collective bargaining because of the emerged international institutions which apply significant pressure on organisations to comply with labour regulations.
2. Collective Bargaining
Collective bargaining can be explained as the method which is used by workers to get organised and negotiate working conditions with their employees. Collective bargaining is a method which is used by employees to discuss their expectations of wages, working hours and employment conditions (Ale, 2002).
Collective bargaining is a phenomenon which has been approached and researched by scholars in many academic disciplines, such as: industrial relations, economics, political science, history, psychology and sociology. One theory which can be recognised in the academic literature suggests that collective bargaining is a human right and therefore it can be perceived as a phenomenon which needs to be legally protected (Blanpain, 2008a).
In this respect, the Universal Declaration of human Rights and the International Labour Organisation’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work identify collective bargaining as the right of employees to create and participate trade unions through which they can have access to negations for changes in employment conditions (Blanpain, 2008b).
There are three specific elements of collective bargaining which characterise the functionality and importance of this phenomenon, such as: bargaining arrangements; bargaining coverage; and bargaining levels.
Bargaining arrangements refer to the way unions and employers are organised to engage in discussions and negotiations. Bargaining arrangement may have the form of individual union’s negotiating separately or separate union’s negotiating jointly, which is known as single-table bargaining. The method of single-table bargaining attracted great attention and popularity over the last decades where collective bargaining rose from 40% in 1990 to 77% in 1998 as a prevalent method for industrial negotiations. The occurrence of this trend was not only resulted by the decreased multi-unionism but the desire of simplified methods of bargaining. However, it should be outlined that simplified bargaining arrangements are not only promoted by unions but also encouraged by employers (Blanpain et al., 2009).
Bargaining coverage is another component of collective bargaining and it defines the percentage of workers whose pay is determined by unions and employers bargaining negotiations. There are findings which indicate a significant decline in the collective bargaining coverage in unionised work environments since 1984 (Carrell and Hearvin, 2000).
This trends has been particularly observed in the private sector and has been resulted by the emergence of many unionised work environments with no or low collective bargaining. Another reason for this trend could be proposed to be the declining union density. There are other suggestions which outline that the declining union coverage may have been even resulted by the decreased support of employees (Carrel and Hearvin, 2009).
Finally, the bargaining levels can be described as the pay bargaining which occurs at different workplace levels which is part of a multi-site organisation. Workplace-level bargaining is also recognised to have decreased over the last years, whereas multi-site employer level bargaining has significantly grown (Blanpin et al., 2009).
2.1 Current Extent and Recent Changes
At present, findings suggest that employers are satisfied with the decentralised bargaining system and return to multi-employer bargaining can be proposed to be less likely to happen. On the other hand, the government have not introduced any explicit policy or support vehicle to maintain and promote the UK bargaining system which may be suggested to be a sign of the government’s satisfaction with the current situation (Gospel, 2003).
?However, one factor to cause possible changes in the bargaining system and procedures can be identified to be multi-national corporations (MNCs) operating in the UK. They account to a large percent of the private sector and therefore have significant influence on the country’s economy and industrial relations. Although there is little evidence on innovative changes in the bargaining procedures and change, recent information suggests that one of the most distinctive features would be the promotion equality and diversity practices(Blanpain, 2008a).
In this respect, it can be suggested that the growing popularity of MNCs has resulted in an increase of corporate strength in comparison to union memberships. Moreover, the dynamic global economic environment and industrial competitiveness play substantial role in the growing responsiveness of employers to employees’ expectations as companies focus on recruiting and retaining the most capable personnel. This is the reason why, agreements, such as flexible time, broaden job specification, new career paths, decentralised decision-making and employees’ promotion have naturally emerged without the need of unions to bargain and support these industrial relations (Herman, 1997).
3. Trade Unions
A trade union or also known as labour union can be defined as an organisation of employees who have joined together to negotiate and achieve a common goals which is usually related to working conditions, such as: salary rates; working hours and employment conditions. It is an organisation which emerged in many countries during the Industrial Revolution when the bargaining power was in possession of employers because employees had comparatively lower skills and thus were often mistreated(Kearney and Carnevale, 2000).
This is the reason why, the importance of trade unions has been recognised to be significant as it is the body which bargains with employers on behalf of its members and thus is responsible primarily for the development of labour contracts. However, trade unions are organisations which not only do gather current workers as members but also unemployed and past workers can participate in this structure. It does not matter the current employment condition of the individual but the primary purpose is for the trade union to improve labour conditions through the development of multi-beneficial labour contracts (Rees, 1989)..
In this respect, trade unions are recognised to provide employees with a wide range of benefits, such as: collective bargaining (negotiating wages, working hours and employment conditions); industrial action (enforcing strikes); and political activity (influencing policy changes in favour of employees).
From the above outlined functions which trade unions have, collective bargaining can be proposed to be one of the most common and influential. As already explained in the previous section, collective bargaining is the process of negotiating better employment standards for union members. This is the reason why, it can be suggested that trade unions is one of the most effective channels for employees’ expressing their demands and expectations (Strayer University, 2007).
However, trade unions have attracted some criticism over the years of their existence. The primary criticism is associated with the concerns of their benefiting primarily workers who have secure jobs and isolating those who are unemployed and looking for career prospects that cannot achieve or those who are at risk of unemployment. Although, trade union’s members may be comprised of both employed and unemployed, it appears that these organisations are favouring the former rather than the later (Ale, 2002).
On the other hand, a macroeconomic perspective of the impact of trade unions suggest that they tend to increase wages and working standards for particular industries but the expense of fewer jobs available. In other words, unionised industries tend to grow in better work standards, whereas the wages in non-unionised industries tend to decline, which implies that the work of trade unions is predisposing to a zero sum game condition (Blanpain, 2002).
Furthermore, trade unions have been recognised to fail to address and resolve issues which involve conflicts among a union’s members. In this respect, a UK case of racism between co-trade union members was an issue which the union failed to resolve as it had to interfere with the union’s rules to protect member interests (Carrell and Hearvin, 2009).
4. Employee Methods
As it was already recognised employees can use union as the primary and arguably the most powerful source to practice their employment rights. Moreover, as suggested trade unions can use different processes and approaches to achieve change that favours employees’ rights and demands. In this respect, union methods can be described as: collective bargaining; industrial action; political activity; and provision of different benefits to members (Gospel, 2003).
In the context of non-union methods, employees can look for their rights and negotiate independently from unions. It has been already revealed that one of the greatest changes in collective bargaining or in this union method was contributed by the substantial growth, power and influential capabilities of private corporations. In this respect, the need of union interaction has declines as currently corporations are paying much attention on retaining high-quality employees and therefore maintain a high level of flexibility with respect to their employment considerations(Herman, 1997)..
However, it should be mentioned that these are non-union methods which favour a certain extent of the labour population, which can be described as high-quality talent and in which large corporations are interested. In other words, these methods would not be favourable to unemployed and individuals who are willing to work in a particular industrial segment but does not have the opportunity. This is the reason why, from macroeconomic point of view, non-union methods practiced by companies may be also suggested to predispose to a condition of a zero-sum game.
In this context, there are different types of non-union representatives which can be recognised to have significant importance in managing employment conditions. There are representatives who are assigned to take care of employees’ health and safety in working environments where no union is recognised. These representatives can be also employed in work context where unions exist but do not cover a number of the working employees( Ale, 2002).
On the other hand, employees can elect information and consultation representatives internally to build an information and consultative body under the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations (Blanpain et al., 2009).
Employees’ rights can be also protected by European consultative bodies which can consist of both union and non-union members to negotiate with central management on different employment benefits, terms and agreements.
Another representation of employees’ rights can be practiced by pension representatives. These are workplace representatives which consult employees on different changes to pension arrangement and regulations, which are also known as listed changes under the Occupational and Personal Pension Scheme. These representatives may both member and non-member of trade unions.
TUPE representatives are another category of non-union representation which is practiced in environments where no union arrangements are existent. In this respect, non-union members need to be continuously provided with information and consultation on employment regulations and changes.
Based on the various representative approaches in which both companies and employees can get involved to coordinate their work, it can be outlined that consultation representatives are arguably the largest source of labour agreements management and coordination as a non-union method. These are representatives who have the function and rights to meet with consultation bodies which were assigned by organisations and thus discuss various employment-related issues. The consultative bodies which were set by companies may be introduced by appropriate legislation but there are many cases where these bodies get organised voluntarily by the employer (Blanpain, 2008a).
However, these representatives can be both elected by the workforce and the employer. In cases when these representatives are elected by the employer, there are perceived to be having limited authority and employees’ thrust that they will appropriately represent labour force’s demands and expectations.
Although, there is a distinction between union and non-union approaches to employment regulations, there are cases where both union and non-union members can work jointly to achieve a common goal. This is a situation which is dependent on the employer’s reassurance that the work of both parties does not interfere with each other. However, this situation can be suggested to predispose to a number of complexities in terms of coordination, time of negotiations, inefficient discussions, confusion of employees in terms of which type of representation they should participate in, etc (Gospel, 2003).
It is important to outline that union or non-union methods can work only in contexts where collective bargaining is supported by both internal and external conditions. In other words, employees’ collective bargaining should be supported and protected by labour administration authorities to control labour activities and rights. In some countries, labour rights are deeply integrated within countries’ regulations and they even have constitutional strength.
On the other hand, good faith can be also suggested to be a significantly important source of successful collective bargaining. In other words, labour agreements would not be achieved if good faith from both employers’ and employees’ sides is non-existent.
Finally, appropriate communication is another bargaining channel of paramount importance. In this context, both employers and employees need to keep each other well informed and thus avoid possible discrepancies in demand and supply of labour services and agreements.
Deriving from these conditions and from the various non-union and employees’ methods it can be proposed that trade union may be important source of labour negotiations and bargaining power but they is a great diversity of options which employees can use to plead for better work environments. Moreover, trade unions may be powerful source of bargaining power but in conditions where good faith is non-existent their power would be diminished. This is the reason why, it can be proposed that the negotiating power of employees is highly dependent on the industrial context (e.g. public vs. private; service vs. product-based; EU vs. non-EU, etc).
5. Value of Employee ‘Voice’
Employee ‘voice’ can be described as the process of employees’ expression of their demand and expectations with respect to working conditions, such as: wages; working hours; health and safety conditions, etc (Ale, 2002).
Employee ‘voice’ can be recognised to have been practiced through the phenomenon of collective bargaining power where throguh the use of trade union, employees can express their opinions and needs with a significantly greater impact and value. In this respect, employee ‘voice’ is of significant importance asit gives employees’ the substantial power to communicate their needs.
Moreover, information distortion is avoided because of direct communication. There are a number of mechanisms which can be used to promote employees’ voice. These mechanisms are primarily divided into upward problem-solving and representative participation (Herman, 1997).
The upward problem-solving mechanism can be recognised to be comprised of electronic media, two-way communication, suggestion schemes, attitude surveys and project teams. On the other hand, representative participations can be recognised to encompass partnership schemes, joint consultation, collective representation, etc.
In this respect, employee ‘value’ has significant importance both employees and employers. In terms of the employees’ benefits it can be considered to be a highly influential and large-scale method for employees’ ability to express their demands through the use of collective bargaining that can be provided by both trade union and non-trade union organizations (Gospel, 2003).
However it should be also recognised that employees’ voice is not important component t in the development of employees’ needs and expectations but a highly important component in companies’ ability to be more responsive to stakeholders’ expectations. This is the reason why, by being capable of identifying key stakeholders, organisation would have better opportunities to manage them respectively(Kearney and Carnevale, 2000).
The better management of employees through clear communication of employee voice can result in a wide range of benefits not only to the employees but to the organisation as well. In this respect, better management of employees would provide organisations with the opportunity to comply with various legal regulations which protect employees’ rights. This would not only protect organisations’ of being threatened by local and international laws but is likely to stimulate their performance.
In this respect, by complying with employees’ expectation organisation can promote employees skills and it can also serve as a highly motivational factor to employees’ performance. For example, organisation may provide employees with flexible working conditions to enhance their work-life balance and thus increase their loyalty and commitment to the organisation values by showing respect in their lifestyles and personal conditions (Strayer University, 2007).
Moreover, there employee ‘voice’ is a concept which is not only protected by trade unions but it has grown in significant importance and considerations of many international organisations which aim at developing better regulations to protect employees and thus represent another both direct and indirect channel to cause pressure on corporations to comply with employees’ interests and labour rights.
Furthermore, employee ‘voice’ has a substantial impact on company’s ability to enhance their corporate social responsibility through better management of employees’ needs and expectations. Corporate social responsibility is a highly important concept in organisations ability to recognise their stakeholders and respond respectively to their needs. This would not only increase their compliance in terms of legal regulations but is likely to even increase their customers’ loyalty and recognition of company’s value and image (Blanpain, 2008b).
In this respect, the high costs with which organisations’ compliance with trade and non-trade unions can be associated may be overcome in the long-term b stimulating greater employees’ productivity, improved corporate social responsibility and increase brand recognition.
In conclusion, collective bargaining can be suggested to be one of the most influential approaches to improvement of labour rights and employment conditions. Collective bargaining is an approach which has been practiced through trade unions who aim at negotiating and bargaining better condition for employees. In this respect, trade unions and collective bargaining is the channels and approach through which employees can share their ‘voice’ on issues which concern their employment rights and working conditions.
However, based on current findings, trade unions have been decreasing in numbers and influence as there are a number of other channels through which employees can protect their employment rights. Employees are currently protected by a greater number of local and international institutions, consultative organisation and non-union members which all pay significant attention to improving labour conditions.
Moreover, organisations have become highly responsive to the growing competitiveness of labour talent in the market and therefore pay greater attention to recruiting and retaining the best talent. Organisations are also gradually developing corporate social responsibility, which is another factor that considers better employment relations and responsiveness to labour needs.
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