A significant body of recent comparative research has been stimulated in major degree by the changing context and nature of employment relations in the UK Labour market (Salamon, 2000; Warhurst et al., 1999). Indeed, academics and researches in this field need to respond fast as the main driver of this change, the labour market in the UK, is changing now more rapidly than ever (ACAS, 2005; Gennard and Judge, 2010). Gennard and Judge (2010) noted one of the visible results of a changing that the UK economy has been a much more deregulated labour market. Reforms have seen a rise of the service economy. The Economist (2016) reported, manufacturing now only accounts for 8% of total employment in comparison to 40% between 1840 and 1960. The rapid decline of manufacturing and the rise of the service economy in the UK over the last 60 years is one of the various ways through which, the employee relations is changing but more notably as Staff (2018) advocates. This is more notable in the level of trade union membership and industrial action, from a peak 12 million plus, union membership has fallen to around 7 million today. Gennard & Judge (2010) highlighted this issues further noting in 2009, 71% (132) of total number of trade unions registered with Certification Officer that had membership of less than 5,000. As the heavyweights of the study of industrial relations, Keel University & London School of economics close their departments of Industrial Relations (Gall, 2008) has explained that, the UK has seen the death to “industrial relations”? Is collective bargaining unappealing and unsalable to the demands of employee relations in a modern economy?

Work places have become technologically and globally more mobile, therefore, altering the work arrangement provides a degree of flexibility on when, where and what times employees work, such as part time working, job sharing, term-time working, job sharing and working from home. Flexible working and work life balance have become mainstream issues in the UK labour market (Broughton, 2015). The most recent UK survey of work life balance, researched and written by IFF, gives an over view on the current state of play, confirming,

“Flexible working is now very well established, with 97% of workplaces offering at least one form of flexible working…the use of flexitime have increased, particularly in the public sector, where almost half the workplaces now have of work places have at least one employee working this way” (Broughton, 2015)

Flexible working is placing further demand on modern UK working practices and strategic workforce planning strategies as a new dimension of flexible working has entered in the UK labour market arena such as zero-hour contracts and the gig economy. The rise of the Gig Economy is at the forefront of political and legal agenda, as this report is written, the true extent of the controversy surrounding Gig Economy and employment relations that can be seen as the UK Supreme Court rejects appeal in landmark gig economy case against Pimlico Plumbers ruling worker status for employees who are classed as “independent contractors” instead of employees (Chapman, 2018).

 Finally but not least importantly, the report will consider women’s participation in the labour market. March 2018 marks the centenary of women’s right and equality; the report will pay homage to this remarkable event and their campaign to achieve gender equality. However, following Gender Pay Gap report in April 2018 the results have created unrest in the labour market. The data lays bare the scale of the gender pay gap in private businesses and public sector, raising questions about structural inequalities in the workforce. Cotton (2018) affirms CIPD view point on this issue confirming,

“Gender Pay Gap reporting isn’t just a compliance exercise; it brings transparency to and focuses attention on, important gender issues that need addressing…gender pay gap data provides an ideal opportunity for organisations to examine the impact of their people management and developing practices”

The report will delve deeply into the impact of structural labour market changes and inter-firm networks in the practice of human resource management. Moreover, there will be an evaluation of how these changes have impacted the practice of managing employee relations, and these changes have blurred and fragmented the management of such employee relations.


Defining Employment Relations – is this too fragmented and blurred?

To try and draw a conclusion on how employment relations have become fragmented and blurred, it is useful to look at what constitutes the definitional characteristics the term “employment relations”. Rollinson & Dundon (2008) stated that, there is considerable and ongoing debate about what constitutes an employment relationship, and what can be taken to be the most important characteristics. Nonetheless attempts have been made to define the characteristics of employee relations. Rollinson & Dundon (2008) give a broad definition and define employment relations as;

“A field of study with the formal and informal relationship between and organisation and it employers. This embraces the potentially wide range of interactions and processes by which the parties to the relationships adjust to the needs, wants and expectation of each other in the employment situation”.

What is interesting with the term given by Rollinson & Dundon is that their definition points to the idea that the parties to the relationship each have their own “needs, wants and expectation” which would mean, there is always some potential to resolve conflict in the relationship.

CIPD have gone one step further and suggest the term “employee relations “ has replaced the term “industrial relations” which refers to the aspects of collective relations between management and worker’s representatives which are normally covered by collective bargaining.

“Today’s interpretation of employee relations is much wider and refers to individual as well as collective workplace relationships. It reflects individualisation of employment relationship following the rise of individual workplace rights and the decline of trade union reach and influence” (Ayling & Stuff, 2018)        

Conceptions of Employment Relations

Others have focused on defining employment relations by theoretical approaches. To discuss all approaches of employment relations, it is too mighty of a task to be undertaken within this report. However, the report will explore two approaches that are most often cited which are unitarism and pluralism (Fox, 1996 cited by Daniels, 2006).

The Unitary perspective of employment relations is characterised by empathising on cooperative relations at work. The unitarist commence from the assumption that organisation and all of its members are inherently concerned with the achievement of organisation goals. As a result, it is assumed that, the natural state of the organisation is productivity and harmony, in the course set by the management. Conflict is, thus, an aberration but will arise from poor management, communication and from a failure of employees to understand the direction of the organisation. Daniel (2006) confirmed, there is no need for a trade union representative, because there are no conflicts to resolve.

By contrast, the pluralist perspective recognises that employees and employers do have different interests, Plaurism grew as an explanation for employee relations that addressed some of the weaknesses of unitarism (Daniels, 2006). Pluralism rejects the unitary structure of authority, leadership and loyalty, instead recognising the legitimacy of varied and, at times, divergent interests between employers and employees (Fox, 1974). It recognises that employees and employers do have different interests and there is a possibility that conflict will occur. In order to reduce conflict, collective bargaining came to be seen as the most practical method of reducing tensions between parties, primarily by regulating the terms and conditions of employment (Donovan Commission, 1968 cited by Rollinson & Dundon, 2008). Unions therefore, are not external agitators to be resisted if harmonious relations are to be upheld but are the legitimate representatives of employee’s interest (Williams, 2014). Daniels (2006) noted that, this theory is largely seen as more relevant to the workplace today, in comparison with unitarism, supporting this Ross (20xx) advocates the pluralist perspective as being more congruent with developments in contemporary society.

The report has established  term ‘employment relations’ that has replaced industrial relations due to the fact it has become increasingly appropriate in the context of post war industrialisation, the decline of trade union membership and the number of employees including in collectively negotiated continuing declining, the question must be raised,  how valid is the pluralist perspective to the understanding of employment relations in contemporary society and how relevant is it too the understanding of the changing context and nature of UK labour market as those lined out in this report?

As previously pointed out, to discuss all  theoretical approaches of employment relations is a mighty task, but the report cannot consider how employment relations have become fragmented and blurred if acknowledgment is not given to the contribution of liberal individualism. The advent of the Conservative Government during the 1980s & 1990s, herald an era of liberal or laissez-faire individualism. Rose (2008) noted the characteristics of liberal individualism are;

“Economic conflicts of interest should be freely entered into by individual employees…individual workers should bargain with individual employers over the contact of employment…any combination by trade unions or employers’ association to influence the terms of employment contract was to be deplored…that it is best for individuals, in a free society, to take responsibility for their own actions and not to rely on others such as trade unions such as trade unions and the state.”

Margaret Thatcher’s famous (or infamous) statement the “there is no such thing as society” encapsulates this doctrine (Rose, 2008).  This is still very much alive today, as it was during Thatcher’s reign. The Guardian reported in 2015, the biggest crackdown on trade unions for 30 years including “new plans to criminalise picketing, permit empowers to hire strike-breaking agency staff and choke off the flow of union funds to the Labour party” (Wintour, 2015)        

But, despite the Conservative Government efforts to silence trade union involvement and enforce anti-union legislation, the globalisation of production and competition contributing to the erosion of collective regulation, the decline of trade union membership and collective bargaining over the past four decades, union membership is still very much alive (Gennard et al, 2016). While trade unions fight to recover their membership and their influence, the question for HR professionals is what are the implications for this for wider employment relations?

How relevant are the TUC and Unions today?

As the report has previously discussed, trade union membership, but there have been a number of other explanations given for the progressive decline in trade union membership. It has been argued that employers have become more hostile to unions (Gennard et al, 2006). To validate this view, one must only look at a very recent case trade union law case Unite vs Kostal UK Ltd (2017), a claim arose after Kostal UK Ltd sought to bypass union negotiations in pay talks. Kostal made an attempt to break the union and divide members, who voted strongly to reject the company’s pay offer and proposed changes to the terms and conditions. In December 2015, the company wrote to the employees directly urging them to accept the offer individually and to change their terms of employment or risk of losing a Christmas bonus of £270 each if they did not.  This is not the only isolated case against employers attempt to alienate or so much to say eradicate trade union membership within organisations, changes in managerial attitudes to trade unions is also evident in Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS) surveys. According to WERS2011, four out of five managers said “they would rather consult directly with employees than with unions” (WERS2011 cited in Gennard et al, 2016). Gennard at all (2016), reported that, this arguably reflects the spread of unitaristic perspectives among British managers.

However, trade unions and their members are responding for survival, renewal and revitalisation. Some measures such as unions’ merges, not only a response to make sufficient savings on operational cost, but furthermore, the trend in union membership “has been towards to formation of mega unions, aspiring to represent whole sectors of the economy” (Gennard at al, 2016). Unions are being more than ever bold and assertive, unions have grasp the understanding, the way work is organised has radically shifted.  A recent TUC report (2017), The Gig is up, highlights how trade unions attempt to tackle insecurity at work from zero hour contract, agency work, casual work and the “gig economy”. The report states, unions have played a vital role in placing a spotlight on exploitive working practices in companies such as Sports Direct, Amazon, Uber and Hermes (TUC, 2007) and due to union involvement, the unions have shown that collective voice and organisations are critical to ensuring risk and reward are fairly shared. Successful collective action for the gig economy can be seen through The Independent Workers of Great Britain Union (IWGB), established in 2012, it has been noted that the union has quietly been winning higher and fairer payments at a series of courier companies in London. The union has just 1000 members but it has successfully mobilised them to fight a recent contract change by Deliveroo (Gall 2016)

Members of trade unions are still very much participants of the UK labour market both in a traditional and new context, ACAS (2011) supports this suggesting, trade unions are a still a valuable and powerful force in todays’ workplace, and thus, confirming there is still a place for collective employment relations. Human resource professionals cannot ignore their presence; this report has shown there is evidence to suggest that organisations must strike a balance in their strategies for individual and collective bargaining.

The challenge today –The rise of a Precariat

It has been argued that a surge in self-employment or part time jobs over the past two decades has been the key factor behind the rise in inequality in the world’s industrialised countries (OECD, 2013 cited in Stewart, 2015). Developments in information and communication technology and the global transformation, with a vision of open liberalised markets, part of the strategy has dismantling institutions of social solidarity thus; weakening labours bargaining power, the by-product of this was intensified labour flexibility. Such pressures have lead managers to search for more flexibility and responsive ways of using labour (Rollinson & Dundon, 2008). Although there is good evidence to support a link between flexibility and employee health and wellbeing (French et al, XXXX), therefore leading to better productivity, more emotionally engaged, reduce recruitment costs and better customer satisfaction. Indeed, such positive findings have been well documented such as a report by DTI (2004), which surveyed 50 companies of all sizes and sectors that has introduced flexible workings. They reported that, they have seen improvements in customer service and performance, reduced staff stress and absenteeism (Daniels, 2006).


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