This essay considers the area of worker representation and whether, because of changes in management practice that take account of the needs and views of staff, such representation is required in the 21st century…
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ship: Aggregate union density: No union members: Union density of 50% or more: Recognised unions: (% employees) (% workplaces) (% workplaces) (% workplaces) All workplaces 34 64 48 30 Sector of ownership: Private 22 77 8 16 Public 64 7 62 90 Management attitudes towards union membership: In favour 60 8 58 84 Neutral 22 76 9 17 Not in favour 5 93 1 4 Table 2: Union Presence, by Sector of Ownership and Management Attitudes (Source: Marchington and Wilkinson 2008 p.390) The importance of management attitudes is discussed later in this paper. Employee Relations The latest ideas to involve workers more in the workplace are employee engagement and employee involvement and participation (EIP). These follow changes from collective and multi-employer bargaining brought about by international competition and globalisation. Increasingly, although employees have various rights enshrined in law, employers are dictating terms and, in some cases, unilaterally attempting to change contracts of employment to the detriment of employees (Curtis 2010b). Heery (2009 p.334) discusses the representation gap, restating key themes of “union revitalisation, non-union representation and the effectiveness of public policy” as needing further research. Szell (2010 p.184) describes “the neo-liberal economic system” as having “declared war on the trade unions and workers’ participation” when considering the impact of the global financial crisis on the trade union movement and labour policies, specifically in the EU. This is even more important with the austerity drive being pursued by the current UK coalition government as, following the announcements of substantial budget cuts for the public sector, unions have advised that they intend striking to protect both their members’ jobs...
An Assessment of the Need for Worker Representation in the 21st Century
Hutton believes that the employment relations culture in 2010 resembles that of the 1970s and this causes many employees to take employers to employment tribunals to obtain justice. He highlights that “around a third of all people at work have experienced some form of unfair treatment in the past year”, the gender pay gap and low pay as evidence that there is a need for “a more effective collective worker voice in the workplace”.
Employment relations are as difficult an area as ever, with workers still requiring protection within the working context, whether through legislation or union representation. Employers seem determined to exclude workers from decision making and regard them as simply resources, like fixtures and fittings, with no opinions, attitudes or voices of their own once they enter the workplace. Representation is still required, and will continue to be so until employers realise that employees’ full participation in organisational decision making improves the bottom line.
One area that organisations might like to explore in this respect, is stakeholder theory. Although most organisations pay lip service to stakeholders other than shareholders, adopting such an approach would generate many positive benefits, including within the employee relations arena. The key issue to be addressed is the power differential between employer and employed. Until this is resolved, employees will still be treated poorly and still require representation, both as individuals and collectively.
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