Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Collective Bargaining over pay - from bad to WERS...?

The Workplace Employee Relations Study (WERS) provides reliable data on the regulation of employment relationships (or what we old-timers used to call "industrial relations") across the economy (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-2011-workplace-employment-relations-study-wers).

It gives us some credible, and far from encouraging, information about the scope of collective bargaining. In summary, WERS observes that;

"In the private sector, although formal rights to negotiate over pay changed little, the scope of collective bargaining in the unionised sector declined dramatically.

In the public sector, collective bargaining coverage fell markedly but the bargaining scope was stable."

There is better news, at least in terms of employee perceptions, when it comes to pay (which is the subject of this blog post);

"Nevertheless, unions continue to bargain successfully for employees, increasing the likelihood of pay rises through pay settlements.

Employees' perceptions of union effectiveness in bargaining on their behalf have remained fairly stable since 2004, in spite of indications that their infuence is waning. When employees were asked 'Ideally, who do you think would best represent you in dealing with managers about getting increases in your pay?', one third (33% in 2004 and 30% in 2011) said a trade union.This rose to one half in workplaces with a union recognised for pay bargaining (55% in 2004 and 53% in 2011) and two thirds among union members (69% in both years)."

It may be that our subjective perceptions as workers are shaped as much by past as present realities, and that they have yet to adjust to recent change, for - as WERS observes;

"Union infuence over pay setting has been In decline for three decades. By 2011 only 6% of private sector workplaces bargained with unions over pay for any of their employees and just under one sixth of private sector employees (16%) had their pay set by collective bargaining. These figures have remained fairly stable since 2004.

However, the last seven years has seen a significant decline in collective bargaining coverage in the public sector. Collective bargaining takes place in less than three ffths (58%) of public sector workplaces, setting pay for a little over two fifths (44%) of public sector employees, down from over two thirds in 2004. Strongly unionised workplaces where 100% of employees have their pay set by collective bargaining have been a rarity in the private sector for some time. But they are increasingly uncommon in the public sector too.

A fall in the percentage of public sector workplaces using multi- employer bargaining — from 58% in 2004 to 44% in 2011 — lies behind the decline in public sector pay bargaining.The percentage of public sector employees covered by collective bargaining in Health has fallen from 74% in 2004 to 14% in 2011, in part because the Independent Pay Review Body has resumed responsibility for pay after Agenda for Change negotiations were completed. However, even if we exclude Health, the percentage of public sector employees covered by collective bargaining fell from 66% in 2004 to 56% in 2011."

From the perspective of a public sector not-yet-rarity, working in an organisation where the pay of all but a handful of the most senior staff have their pay and conditions determined by collective bargaining, it is certainly alarming to see this decline in collective bargaining coverage.

The nature of being a worker in a capitalist society is that we have to sell our labour power. The price we get (our wage or salary) is the most important element of that transaction since it determines what we can do (how much we can buy) in that part of our life when we are not at work.

Our predecessors created trade unions because they saw that a "combination" of workers was necessary to even up our bargaining power to get a better deal on pay from the employers. Collective bargaining over pay is probably the most important factor to differentiate a trade union from a friendly society.

However, like all tools, collective bargaining will rust up and become useless if we don't keep using it. As a local government worker, emerging blinking into the daylight after the three year darkness of the pay freeze, only to find the feeble glow of a probable 1% offer (2% less than RPI) as the only light for my future, I can see the risk that we lose the commitment our members have to us on the issue of pay if we can't lead them (us) to better outcomes.

I hope our leadership see clearly the challenge before us...

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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