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Guide to industrial relations for new union members

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Resources
Wordcount: 3510 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Employee Relations:

The guide to industrial relations for new union members

1.1 Aspects of industrial relations.


“The pressure on Human Resources Management to be strategic is almost as intense now as the campaign to persuade us to eat healthily. We all believe it is a good thing to be strategic- career progressive for ourselves, prestigious for our progression and it might even do our organizations good as well”. (Harriott and Pinder, 1992: pg 36)

Pluralistic and Unitary frames of reference are part of the new industrial relations resolution that is there to prevent actions that would result in industrial dispute. Both frames of reference look at the views of employees and how organization deals with them, if they do.

Below is a model of Guest (1989), which is also the work of many theorists, which looks at the frames of reference, and how they differ.


·Traditional unitarist

·Sophisticated unitarist


·New industrial relations pluralist

·Opportunistic pluralist

·Sophisticated pluralist

·Traditional pluralist

The Unitarist’s view: this form of reference looks at businesses’ that believe that the employees’ should share the same goals as the overall organization. A Pluralist looks at and accepts that employees’ will not all share the same goals and views as the overall organization. This also affects the presence of Union representative role within the organization, and how they view their roles. For example, Unitarists find it difficult to accept that the Union has such a major role in the organization, but Pluralist welcome the idea of their presence and regard them as an essential role for employees’ motivation in the workplace.

“Most managers took the line that since they could get what they wanted through negotiations or by acting out unilaterally, there was no need to attack the unions”.

(Kessder and Bayliss, 1992, pg. 35)

For example IBM and Hewitt Packard have followed the culture side of sophisticated approach of unitarists, where they emphasise the importance of every employee having the same objectives’ as the company. They also have strong emphasis on having a sophisticated selection process of new employees’, along with training and employment involvement. The majority of the employees’ in their company are non-union.

Guest (2001) also describes four possible industrial strategies (orientations) that may be followed:

The new realism: This is when a company considers human resource management and industrial relations highly regarded for the company and their employees’. An example of this put into practice is by a company called Thorn Lighting, whom state that the new realism is something they strongly believe in:

New styles of union given more power

Employment is top agenda

Emphasis on career and personal development

To also continue increasing skills and tools and techniques to support world class initiative’. (Thorn Lighting)

Traditional collectivism: This is the emphasis being place on industrial relations without HRM.

Stakeholders are directly affected by the companies’ culture and attitude of employee relations;

“the rationale for employee relations is to solve the problem that in a labour market the buyers (employers) and sellers (employees) have an endemic conflict of interests over the prices at which they wish to exchange their services”. (Gennard and Judge (2003))

Employee relations strategy is something that has to work successfully to make the company overall successful. Employees have a vast interest in how the company is performing; for the job security, if the business is not performing as well as it should, will this mean that they would lose their job? Involving employees’ in some business decision making will allow them to feel that they are important to the company and could increase job motivation and loyalty. This will decrease the need for any industrial actions or union interference. Union members will also have a interest in the business, seeing how

1.2 Union History

Kochan (1980) sees industrial relations as emphasizing the study of all aspects of people at work, including all individuals as well as group workers (who may or may not organise into a trade union), the behaviour of employers and union organizations, together with the public policy or legal framework governing employment conditions.

The union membership has been rising and then falling over the years, especially with the Margaret Thatcher era, which could be due to the large unions’ that tried and failed against the government, they included:


Steel workers

Civil servants

Hospital workers

And printers

The union membership fell from 13million to 12million in 1979, but there were still 300,000 shop stewards and reps, 47 out of 50 top UK companies’ still were unionized.

Striking in 1994 hit an all time low, when only 278,000 days were lost by strike action. The total for the first nine months of 1995 was 238,00; since then Job Centre staff, Merseyside Fire-Fighters, Ford and Vauxhall workers have taken strike action. An unofficial strike action was taken in Scotland by postal workers, which led to victory.

“There are no doubts that people are saying enough is enough and the membership is moving ahead of the trade union leadership” (Ken Cameron-Daily Mail).

With the new labour government in 1997, they began to see trade unions as an advantage, which could be used to encourage workplace learning. In May 1998, the union learning funding was created to encourage and provide government funding for ‘innovative trade union projects’. This involves the promotion of workplace learning, which 28,000 people have benefited from additional learning opportunities. (In the first four years)

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In April 2003, legal status was brought in for ‘union learning representatives’, which indicated that government believe that training is an important aspect of improvement in employee relations. This would also encourage the bargaining agenda and partnership promotion of between employers and unions. This will economically be important to the government as it will improve the skills of workers, but it will also create harmony in the workplace, therefore preventing industrial action.

1.3+1.4: Roles involved in employee relations

Trade unions

The aim of trade unions are to give employees job protection, the improvement of pay and conditions, and to also industrial democracy.

What do unions do for there members?

Negotiate pay and conditions

Give advice and information

Defend employee rights

Resolve conflict

Provide services for members I.e. legal help

1998 figures for other union memberships’:

UNISON: (public services) 1,300,451

T&G: (general) 881,357

NUT: (teachers) 172,852

FBU: (firefighters) 56,943

Source: Labour Research

Grouped union types:

Craft and occupational unions:

White collar unions: this union is for employed in a professional environment e.g. office based.

Blue collar unions: these workers are involved in manual employment

General unions: this union is specific to those that are not already in a union, but do not have a craft or skill

Industrial unions: industrial unions organise their own unions that are specific to their industry.

Trades unions can be organized on the basis of occupation, industry or make-up a general union with different groups of unions join. Representatives are elected at the workplace, with discussions with management, which are then linked with regional and national level union structure and services. Regional and national level unions focus mainly on negotiating with employers over pay and conditions. Nationally, some unions may join together to form one or more national unions e.g. Trade Union Congress (TUC).


The TUC is a national trade union centre, a collaboration of trade unions in the UK. They have union representatives of over six and a half million working people, whilst campaigning for a fair deal at work and for social justice home and abroad. The TUC is highly regarded and recognized as the voice of Britain. The TUC is the largest voluntary organization in Britain, whom have 76 members of unions that campaign for the workers;


Decent standards of working environment

Health and safety

Equal opportunities

However, the TUC is not seen as highly powered, as individual unions are not bound by the decisions that the TUC make. Their main activities of the TUC is to:

Pressure and influence government policy, that includes labour and union issues

They also make the decisions for members of the unions on rules and legislation, however they do not interfere with the day-to-day running of individual unions.

The confederation of British Industry (CBI) was formed in 1965, though similar to the TUC, it differs as the voices of the employees are heard, not the voices of the union members. Members of the CBI are from:

Private sector industries

Service and commercial enterprise

Public sector

Employers’ association

Trade association

And Chambers of Commerce.

They have regional offices that help to deal with local and area issues, which enables them to keep in touch with small businesses’ and local employers’, to resolve any issues that they may have.

Like the TUC, they also attempt to influence government decision making

Provides legal, financial and economical advice to all of their members

Has links in Europe, for the interest of the British industry in the European union

They also consult with bodies such as ACAS, in association with the TUC also.

Employee representatives act as the main voice for the employees’, which includes the process of collective bargaining/negotiation. Being a rep is on a voluntary basis and are elected by the employees that they will represent. Employee reps can make improvement to employee relations, as they are able to be the main voice towards the management for the employees’. This could help improve the harmony of the workplace, and could disrupt any dispute that could happen in the near future, due to good communication and sound negotiating. This will then begin to create a trusting relationship, especially between line managers and employees’, as any grievance will be dealt with through the help of their rep.

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Employers’ are seeing the benefits of active employees’ in the union, which has a direct impact on employee relations. Employees’ will improve their people relations and competency skills, which would therefore improve their efficiency and improve overall job satisfaction, communication and motivation within the work place. As issues will be resolved through the increased communication, then it is likely that employees’ will have the motivation and satisfaction to work to the best of their abilities. The direct impact of de-motivated employees’ are low production, which means low profit and it will have a domino affect on the other stakeholders that have an interest in the business too.

Line managers also have a direct affect on the sufficient running of the work floor and can affect the attitudes of the workers’. Communication is key to the relationship between line managers and employees’, this brings the importance of how the rep can make the difference to the working environment.

Collective disputes:

Strike actions: this involves a complete stoppage of work by the union members employees’ due to their grievances being unresolved from unsuccessful bargaining.

Strikes are taken up on by labour unions during the collective bargaining process. When the collective bargaining negotiations breakdown, strike action is usually taken as the last resort. This is due to both parties unable to reach an agreement.

Government intervention has always been highly regarded to the governments’ overall party, as industrial disputes can have a damaging affect on the economy. Currently the government funds a number of bodies that can resolve any future industrial disputes that may occur. They fund the ACAS scheme, which was set up in 1974 and was given statutory rights under the Employment Protection Act 1975. ACAS attempt to resolve any disputes before further action is taken by the union.

“The current ACAS, originally called the Conciliation and Arbitration Service, was set up with an independent council to direct it in 1974. “Advisory” was added to the name in 1975 to reflect the full range of services on offer. Finally, in 1976, the new organisation was put on a statutory footing and receives its funding through the Department of Trade and Industry”. (Derek Torrington-2005)

Advantages of using ACAS in a dispute:

Results can be quick, it day take less than a day to resolve the dispute

Can be a cost-efficient method

Flexible for the organization

Opportunities for appeal are very limited

Legal representatives are not required, so this method is very cost affective

Services that ACAS provide:

Industrial disputes: ACAS will intervene in its conciliation duties if an industrial dispute takes place, with the request of union group members or management.


this is where both parties put their case forward, so ACAS can assess each case and then recommends any decisions that could be made

Advisory work:

ACAS carry out advisory work with employers, trade unions and employers’ association.

Code of practice:

ACAS issue a code of practice, which advises how to improve industrial relations between employers and employees.


ACAS are well informed and publish booklets on labour turnover and appraisal systems etc, to help improve industrial relations and personnel management practice.

Individual cases:

ACAS individually investigates an employee grievance from unfair dismissal to discrimination.


ACAS overall aim is to settle any matter of grievance without using the courts as a method.

The central arbitration committee:

If agreements cannot be reached, then employees have the option of the Central arbitration Committee (CAC), which is a government body which is designed to assist with union queries. The committee first encourage the union to try and resolve the issue first hand. If this fails then the committee will recognize this and union could then hold a ballot. The CAC have the power to instruct the employer to co-operate with the ballot or risk a fine.

Example of resolving a dispute:

ITV have set ways to help communicate with their employees approach to dispute and have procedures put in place to avoid conflict. ITV uses a wide range of direct communication methods to engage with individual employees’. ITV’s intranet, known as Watercooler, provides a daily online update on news affecting ITV directly and there’s a weekly Watercooler for employees’ who are not online. Other methods of communication includes the 60-second update-produced monthly by central communications and setting out what’s going on in the business. This includes individual development reviews, briefing meetings, workshops and using individual relationships with the line manager. This is then monitored to see if this affected through employee surveys.

The company also engages in collective bargaining through elected representatives because the union represents only 15 percent of their workforce. ITV need to consult employees’ regularly as the scale of changes within the organization, they have around 15 communication groups located in different businesses’. The aim of this is to reassure that the employees’ feel respected and that their interests are of an importance. However, management rarely deliver engagement towards the employees’, so they put the emphasis on line managers and HR policies and affective communication to allow the employees’ to be engaged in company activity. When disputes surface they use the collective bargaining and elected representatives to deal with the disputes- along with the union members. The process is:

This way of resolving conflict is positive as it allows the employees’ to have a

large amount of communication forwarded and towards the management. However, there seems to be a large amount of responsibility to be the employees’ main spokesman, which cold be negative for employees’ if line managers communication is poor.

Collective bargaining:

Collective bargaining is a process in which employers’ work with the employees trade union and work councils to negotiate issues that are unsettling the employees’. Usually most employees bargain on a day-to-day basis, which involves communication between the line manager on a regular basis.

Who’s involved in collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is not as commonly used as it once was, according to Cully (1999), only 41 percent now use this method of negotiating the employees terms and conditions. Eastern Europe and the Scandinavian countries still commonly use the collective bargaining process as a way to negotiate employees’ conditions.

The union members and representatives bring into the negotiating argument of rising house prices and cost of living to negotiate their pay terms. Whilst management make negotiations from examples of the labour market rates. Both have to be consider in how it will affect the companies’ costs and the future affects.

Source: Tim Hannogan- management, concept and practices. (1998)

John Goodman (1984) describes collective bargaining as ‘a process through which representatives of employers and employee organization act as the joint creators of substantive and procedural rules regulating employment’.

The negotiation process will depend on the culture of the business I.e. pluralist-V-unitarist. Open and clear communication and preparation will allow the possibilities of conflict to be dissolved and relation’s with employees’ with employers’ will be improved.

Preparation for the negotiation process:

Drawing up the plan of what they hope to achieve, with objectives of the negotiation, which then is approved by the appropriate management

Investigating what the grievances the employees’ have, letting everyone have a view, so the negotiations and objectives are clear

Looking at the current collective bargaining agreements that already exists within the company

Looking at how the employees’ would benefit from the suggested improvements e.g. increased salary

Looking at the cost implications of proposed improvements

According to an American study carried out, skills of negotiation are carried out with specific requirements for the negotiators taken on the bargaining:

Being rated both highly in a negotiation

Having the appropriate track record of negotiation success

Having a low record of unsuccessful negotiations

Strategy of negotiation

It is important that the process is taken on board and planning is the main part, if there is going to be a successful negotiation. Planning the negotiation will look at the alternative outcomes, giving them a range of options if they cannot agree on specific issues. I believe that it is important that negotiators do not focus on one point, not forgetting other issues that need resolving. Also the planning of the future is very important when negotiation, looking at the short-term and long-term implications.

It is also important that both representatives agree with their objectives and allocate roles to suit their strengths. Looking at what the other party might suggest and looking at ways to not give-up on what the overall original objectives were.

Possible outcomes:

Employee relations -V- industrial relations, difference?

Industrial relations have become a term that is used based upon strike action and disputes in the work place. However, the new term employee relations, sets about to bring a more harmonized work force, whom have more communication


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