The relationships between labour and management can be contentious or amicable, depending on the industry and the leadership involved. When these stakeholders reach loggerheads over disagreements about wages, benefits or working conditions, productivity is diminished, jobs can be lost and national productivity inevitably suffers. To determine what can be done, this paper provides an analysis and explanation concerning the roles of two key stakeholders involved in managing the employment relationship within a UK context, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and trade unions. A discussion concerning some of the key challenges that these stakeholders experience in managing employment relations is followed an examination of how the different roles of these stakeholders may impact on employment relations within different UK employing organisations. Finally, a summary of the research and important findings concerning these issues are provided in the conclusion.
Review and Analysis
According to the editors of The Times 100, "A trade union is an organised group of employees who have joined together in an officially recognised organisation to further their common interests" (Benefits of employer and employee co-operation 2013, p. 2). Trade union members typically share a skill, trade, industry, employer or occupation in common, but some unions known as "general unions" are comprised of workers from a number of different industries (Benefits of employer and employee co-operation 2013). All trade unions in the United Kingdom are created, supported and operated by their constituents (Benefits of employer and employee co-operation, 2013).
The members of UK trade unions such as the AEEU, CWU, GMB, MSF, PCS, TGWU and UNISON, have received a good return on their investment in these organizations. For instance, Gall (2009, p. 60) emphasizes that, "the nature of the service provided, the 'product market' and its related organisational configurations are important in helping to explain why relatively strong and effective workplace unionism has been built and maintained." Although the extant union membership may be relatively strong and effective in the UK, current trends suggest that trade union influence is declining. In this regard, Lind (2007, p. 44) report that, "In general terms trade unions have been on the retreat since the 1970s in Europe when the 'Golden Age' of organised labour and social democracy had peaked." The rate of decline for trade unions, though, is not consistent among the member states of the European Union. As Lind (2007, p. 45) points out, "There are major differences between the nation states concerning the decline in membership. In most countries membership rates peaked between 1975 and 1985 (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, United Kingdom), while unions in other countries were doing well till the mid-1990s (Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden)." Likewise, Barling and Kelloway (1999, p. 124) cite the decline in trade union members in the UK in recent years and point out that, "The 1980s and early 1990s were witness to almost universal decline in union membership. For example, in the United Kingdom unionization declined by approximately 25% or three million people during the 1980s."
Although trade unions may be struggling, some authorities believe they are not down and out. For example, Barling and Kelloway (1999, p. 124) emphasize that, "That the labour movement is facing considerable challenge is beyond question. However, the conclusion that unions will not survive these challenges is by no means certain." At present, there are three major trends underway that will inevitably have a positive effect on trade unions:
1. The number of women participating in the paid workforce has increased with a corresponding decrease in men's participation in the workforce. As a consequence, women are steadily increasing their presence in labour unions and in 1993 accounted for 42.4% (1.6 million members) of the membership of labour unions.
2. The average age of the workforce has increased and is expected to continue increasing throughout the 1990s. This trend is particularly pronounced in the unionized sector of the workforce. The unionized workforce is, on average, four years older than the non-unionized workforce.
3. The education of the workforce has dramatically increased in recent years. For example, the percentage of individuals in the workforce with some education beyond high school has increased from 29% in 1979 to 42% in 1989. Correspondingly, the percentage of individuals with less than eight years of formal education declined by approximately 50% in the same period (Barling & Kelloway 1999, p. 124).
Although a number of European countries experienced dramatic decreases in their trade union membership over the past 2 decades, the decreases in union membership were matched by increases in general employment (Wu & Liu 2010). According to Wu and Liu (2010, p.146), "In several countries, such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Italy, unemployment rises, even though their union density levels fall sharply." There remains some question as well as to just how effective the remaining trade unions are in their collective bargaining efforts. In this regard, Wu and Liu (2010, p. 146) note that, "The effects of an increase in union bargaining power on wages and employment (hence output) are ambiguous, depending upon how unionization is modeled."
Some authorities argue that the relatively low pay and high levels of wage inequality in the United Kingdom are attributable to labour market institutions. For instance, Grimshaw (2009, p. 439) advises that, "Indeed, the weakening of trade unions since the early 1980s, together with the declining proportion of workers covered by collective bargaining, have contributed to increasing wage inequality."
The precipitous downward spiral of trade union membership slowed somewhat during the early 2000s, but the union representation rates still remain low. In this regard, Grimshaw (2009, p. 440) concludes that, "Despite a levelling-off of the downward trend in unionization and coverage since 2001, by 2006 the United Kingdom's pattern of industrial relations was undeniably that of an 'exclusive' system, with a trade union density of just 28 per cent and collective bargaining coverage of 34 per cent." This point is also made by Cape (2011, p. 9) who emphasizes that, "The [UK] Government figures show that across the country trade union membership fell by 2.7 per cent. In the 1970s there were more than 12 million members in the UK, today that number has been halved."
Other authorities lament the loss of the trade union-administered apprenticeship systems which provided valuable training opportunities for the skilled labour needs of a number of industries in the United Kingdom (Fitzgerald & O'Brien 2005). In addition, the fundamental changes that have occurred in industry, management and working conditions in recent years have diminished the level of worker skill and control (Fitzgerald & O'Brien 2005). According to Fitzgerald and O'Brien (2005, p. 18), "This has posed a significant challenge to trade unions who were also seeking to exploit opportunities for growth in expanding sectors of the regional economy." Unfortunately, these trends have also adversely affected the ability of trade unions to represent their constituencies. In this regard, Fitzgerald and O'Brien note that, "Trade unions have approached this change in differing ways, shackled, to some extent, by the industries they have organised, their regional traditions and methods of operation."
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
Established in 1974 pursuant to the Employment Protection Act of 1975 in an effort to improve employer-employee relationships in the UK (Gregory & Cavanaugh 2007), the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is tasked with negotiating disputes that arise between employers and employees as well as establishing relevant codes of practice and principles to promote more harmonious relationships between employers and employees (Benefits of employer-employee relationships, 2013). According to the editors of Monthly Labor Review (1999, p. 40), "The Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service has a statutory duty to attempt conciliation cases brought to industrial tribunals under the [Employment Protection] Act."
To date, the ACAS has been highly successful in promoting improved working relationships between employers and employees in the UK, due in large part to the expertise that ACAS brings to the collective bargaining table (Benefits of employer-employee relationships, 2013). In this regard, the editors of The Times 100 add that, "Where problems start to arise in a company, it is an easy process to consult with ACAS to find ways of improving relationships. Because ACAS has experience of dealing with so many workplaces it is able to suggest guidelines for harmonious relationships in nearly all situations" (Benefits of employer-employee relationships, 2013, p. 2). The increase in the number of claims being heard by the ACAS is attributable to several factors, including:
1. A growing appreciation that the tribunal/conciliation system is open to everyone, i.e. claimants do not have to be 'special' to exercise their rights;
2. Greater use by trade unions of individual rights legislation either to complement or to substitute for collective industrial action;
3. The development of case law and legislation arising from Europe, with the attendant publicity it has received (particularly as regards part-time workers, sex discrimination and pension rights) (More Conciliate Than Fight It Out 2008, p. 4).
Employment rights in the United Kingdom include contractual as well as statutory claims.…