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Employee relations public Public policy


developments,
policy developments, 1997-2001

1997-2001
581
A break with the past?
John Gennard
Strathclyde Business School, Glasgow, UK
Keywords Employee relations, Policy, Central government, Labour market, Standards,
United Kingdom
Abstract Outlines the new individual and collective rights established for all employees by the
first Blair Labour Government. It then discusses the rationale for these developments, namely
competitive advantage on the basis of labour market flexibility combined with minimum labour
standards and security of employment for employees, the promotion of a partnership, as opposed
to adversial, relationship between employers and employees at the workplace and the need to build
a political consensus for a legal framework surrounding the UK employee relations system. The
article concludes by assessing whether these developments represent a break and/or continuation
relative to other twentieth century UK governments.

This article divides into three parts. The first outlines the main employee relations
public policy initiatives of the first Blair Government of 1997 to 2001. The second
discusses the strategy/philosophy underpinning these developments. The third
assesses the extent to which they represent a departure from the employee
relations policy stances of previous twentieth century governments.

Public policy developments, 1997-2001


The first Blair Government's main public policy initiatives in employee
relations fell into four areas:
(1) Opting into the enlarged European Union Social Chapter as agreed in
the Maastricht Treaty (1993) and subsequently incorporated into the
Treaty of Amsterdam (1997).
(2) The National Minimum Wage Act (1999) which introduced, from 1 April
1999, a national minimum wage.
(3) The Employment Relations Act (1999) which introduced new individual
and collective employment rights.
(4) ``Lesser important'' employee relations measures such as streaming
employment tribunal procedures and promoting the use of alternative
dispute resolution processes.

Opting into the social chapter Employee Relations,


The Social Chapter of the European Union is not a legislative programme. It Vol. 24 No. 6, 2002, pp. 581-594.
# MCB UP Limited, 0142-5455
provides mechanisms for harmonising minimum standards of employment and DOI 10.1108/01425450210453004
Employee social provisions across member states (Gennard and Judge, 2002). The Social
Relations Chapter contained in the Treaty of Rome (1957), has amongst its objectives ``to
24,6 promote improved working conditions and an improved standard of living for
workers so as to make possible their harmonisation while the improvement is
being made''. The chapter also enshrined the right to equal pay for equal work
between men and women. Little progress was made, however, in harmonising
582 employment and social minimum standards across member states because
each member state had the right of veto. The Single European Act (1987),
however, amended the Social Chapter of the Treaty of Rome to allow the
improvement, and harmonisation, of health and safety minimum standards on
the basis of qualified majority voting, a procedure which removed the right of
veto of each member state.
At the 1991 Inter-Governmental Conference held at Maastricht, all member
states, except the UK, accepted four important additions to the Social Chapter.
First, an additional procedure for creating European Union law known as the
Social Dialogue Process (Gennard and Judge, 2002). The European Union
Commission in initiating proposals in the employment and social field is
required to consult on such proposals with the social partners (ETUC for
employees, UNICE for private sector employers and CEEP for public enterprise
employers). They then have a number of options. They can express a view
(favourable or otherwise) on the Commission's proposal or they can agree
jointly to negotiate a Framework Agreement (in reality a voluntary collective
agreement) to establish minimum standards in the field in which the
Commission is proposing action. If the social partners opt for the collective
bargaining route then they have nine months in which to reach an agreement. If
an agreement is concluded it then forms the basis for proposals by the
Commission, for adoption as a Directive by the Council of Ministers and then
transposition to member state domestic legislation.
Second, harmonisation of minimum employment and social standards
across member states on the basis of qualified majority voting was extended
from health and safety to four additional areas. These were working conditions,
information and consultation of workers, the integration of persons excluded
from the labour market and equality between men and women with regard to
labour market opportunities and treatment at work. Third, harmonisation of
minimum standards in social security and the social protection of workers, the
protection of workers where their employment contract is terminated, the
representation and the collective defence of the interests of workers and
employers, conditions of employment for third country nationals legally
residing in the European Union and financial contributions for the promotion of
employment and job creation was to be on the basis of unanimous agreement
between member states. Fourth, the right of association, a right to strike or the
right to impose lock outs and pay be excluded from the Social Chapter
harmonisation procedures.
The UK Conservative Government (1992-1997) had negotiated an opt-out
from this enlarged Social Chapter. The first Blair Government, however, opted
into it by signing the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997). As a consequence, the UK Public policy
Government had to transpose into domestic legislation two Directives ± developments,
European Works Councils and Parental Leave which had been agreed during 1997-2001
the UK opt out. The former provides for the establishment of a European
Union-wide information and consultation procedure of a Works Council in all
organisations with over 1,000 employees in the member states of whom 150 are
in each of two or more of these member states. The first Blair Government 583
implemented this Directive through the Transnational Information and
Consultation of Employee Regulations (1999). The Parental Leave Directive
provided three months unpaid leave for both parents after the birth or adoption
of a child to be taken before its eighth birthday. This Directive was transposed
into UK legislation by the 1999 Employment Relations Act (see below) and the
Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations (1999).
Part-time employees benefited from the Blair Government's opting into the
Social Chapter. In December 1996, the EU Council of Ministers adopted, as a
Directive, the Framework Agreement negotiated by the social partners on part-
time work. This required part-time employees to be treated no less favourably
than full-time employees. They were to receive pro-rata the same benefits as
full-time employees. The Blair Government transposed this Directive into UK
domestic legislation, with effect from 1 July 2002, by the Part-time Workers
(Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations.
It also fell to the first Blair Government to complete the transposition into
UK domestic legislation of the Working Time Directive (1994) via the 1998
Working Time Regulations. This process had began under the Conservative
Government (1992-1997). It was, however, voted out of office before this task
had been completed. The Directive had been introduced as a health and safety
issue and therefore subject to approval by the EU Council of Ministers on the
basis of qualified majority voting. The UK Conservative Government, had
challenged, in the European Court of Justice, that working time was a health
and safety issue. In November 1996, the Court ruled against the UK
Government. The Working Time Regulations (1998) limit employees' working
hours, unless they sign an opt-out agreement, to 48 hours per week averaged
over a four month period. It also requires employees to have:
. 11 consecutive hours rest in every 24 hours;
. two days off per fortnight;
. a rest break every six hours;
. four weeks paid annual leave; and
. night shifts be restricted to six hours.

The national minimum wage


By introducing a national minimum wage, the first Blair Government hoped to
remove the worst excesses of low pay, to narrow the poverty gap and to ease pay
discrimination as a large proportion of the workers who would benefit were
Employee women. The Government established a Low Pay Commission (Metcalf, 1999),
Relations consisting of eight members representing the interests of employers, employees
24,6 and independents, to offer advice as to the level at which the minimum wage be
set. In June 1998, the first report of the Low Pay Commission recommended a
national minimum rate of £3.70 per hour to be introduced in June 2000 with an
interim rate of £3.60 from April 1999. It also proposed, for those aged 18-20, a
584 development rate of £3.20 per hour from April 1999 increasing to £3.30 in June
2000. This development rate was also to apply for a period of up to six months
for those aged 21+, who were on a bona fide training course.
The Government set the level of the national minimum wage for those aged
22 and over at £3.60 per hour and a development rate, for 18-21 year olds, at
£3.00 per hour. The Government also introduced a £3.20 per hour rate for
accredited trainees. These rates were to apply from April 1999. The Blair
Government, however, rejected automatic uprating of the national minimum
wage. The associated National Minimum Wage Act was passed in July 1998.
The national minimum wage has been increased periodically and today stands
at £4.10 per hour and will increase to £4.20 in October 2002.

The Employment Relations Act (1999)


This Act, which implemented the proposals set out in the Blair Government's
White Paper Fairness at Work (DTI, 1998), established a framework of new
individual and collective rights. Individual employees were given the right to
be accompanied by a trade union official, or a fellow employee when ``required
or invited'' to attend a disciplinary or grievance hearing. This right applies
whether or not a trade union is recognised within the employee's workplace.
The cap for unfair dismissal compensation was raised from £12,000 to £50,000
whilst the qualifying period of continuous employment for an employee to
acquire unfair dismissal rights was reduced from two years to one year. The
practice of employers asking employees on fixed term contracts of more than
one year's duration to waiver their right to claim unfair dismissal was
prohibited. The EU Directives on parental leave and part-time work as well as
improvements to maternity rights (for example the statutory maternity leave
period was increased to 18 weeks) were given effect by this Act.

Union recognition
The main innovation in collective rights was the introduction of a statutory
union recognition and de-recognition procedures (for details see Wood and
Godard, 1999). Two methods of statutory recognition of trade unions by
employers, who employ at least 21 workers, for collective bargaining over pay,
working time and holidays were introduced. One is where the union can show a
majority of the employees in the proposed bargaining unit are its members. In
such situations, the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) must declare the
union recognised for collective bargaining. There are, however, even in such
conditions, circumstances in which the CAC must arrange for a ballot. These
include, for example, if it is satisfied a ballot would be in the interests of good
industrial relations or it has evidence a significant number of the members do Public policy
not want the union to conduct collective bargaining on their behalf. The second developments,
method involves a right to recognition where a majority of those voting in a 1997-2001
ballot are in favour and the total yes vote is equal to at least 40 per cent of the
total workforce within the bargaining unit. Broadly similar procedures are
contained in the Act for resolving issues where an employer seeks to de-
recognise a union because they believe the majority of employees in the 585
bargaining unit no longer support recognition.

Industrial disputes
The 1999 Act simplifies the rules and procedures relating to industrial action
ballots to make clear that although the union's notice of intended industrial
action to the employer should still identify the group or category of employees
covered, it need not give names. Some protection is also given by the Act to
employees against dismissal for participating in lawful industrial action. The
dismissal of employees participating in a lawful industrial dispute within the
first eight weeks of such a dispute is now an automatic unfair dismissal. If an
employee is still taking action after the eight week period and the employer has
refused to take ``reasonable'' procedural steps to resolve the dispute, any
dismissal would still be regarded as unfair if the employer has not followed an
appropriate procedure for resolving the dispute.

Other measures
The first Blair Labour Government also introduced other important changes.
The Employment Rights Disputes (Resolution) Act (1998) streamlined
Employment Tribunal procedures and empowered the Advisory, Conciliation
and Arbitration Service (ACAS) to devise a voluntary alternative to the
employment tribunal for the resolution of unfair dismissal disputes (ACAS,
2001). The Public Interest Disclosure Act (Hobby, 1998) provides protection
from dismissal or victimisation for employees who raise concerns at the
workplace about any wrong-doing of their employer. It covers disclosures
relating to criminal offences, breaches of the law and health, safety and
environmental matters.
Two other significant employee relations initiatives of the first Blair
Government were the restoration of trade union recognition and representation
at GCHQ (see Gennard, 1998 for details) and the ending of the requirement under
the 1993 Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act that employers
obtain authorisation every three years from individual union members who
wished to continue having their union subscription deducted from their pay.
Now employers need only obtain written consent from employees to begin
payroll deduction of their union subscriptions. In September 1997, the Blair
Government, in its role as an employer, signed a collective agreement which
gives the Public Services, Tax and Commerce Union sole recognition rights for
collective bargaining, organisation and representation at GCHQ. Staff also had
their unfair dismissal rights re-established.
Employee Rationale for the public policy developments (1997-2001)
Relations The first Blair Government justified the employment law framework created
24,6 by its employee relations public policy developments on three major grounds.
First, the framework was consistent with a flexible and efficient labour market
in which enterprise could thrive, companies can grow, wealth can be created
and in employees be treated fairly. Second, it would create an environment in
586 which the notion of conflict between employers and employees would be
replaced with the promotion of partnership at the workplace. Third, the
framework constitutes an ``industrial relations settlement'' for the 1997-2001
Parliament and contribute to drawing a line under the issue of employment law
which had been a political football over the past 40 years.

Flexibility, competition and fairness


By its macro-economic policies, the Blair Government sought to build a strong
and competitive economy. It rejected the view that the key to competitive
advantage in global and domestic product markets was to create a low wage,
low quality, low value economy. In an era of global competition it believed
competitive advantage for the UK economy stemmed from providing high
quality products and services, having a highly skilled workforce, achieving
high productivity and obtaining high value (Gennard, 1998). The Blair
Government's strategy for achieving this competitiveness rested on the
creation of strong markets in which innovation and the adoption of ``best''
business practices were promoted, on encouraging modern companies which,
inter alia, were open to new ideas from outside and within the firm and on
creating an enterprising nation in which new ideas flourished and companies
ceased to be risk averse.
Given most contemporary markets are subject to rapid and continuous
change, Blair's Labour Government regarded labour market flexibility as an
economic imperative. Employers would require skilled, adaptable and
motivated employees. Labour market flexibility was viewed as a laudable and
necessary policy as it enabled the creation of jobs and wealth and allowed more
people potentially to enter a labour market and fit work around their other
commitments. It recognised, however, that for many employees their
experience of labour market flexibility was redundancies, unreasonable
increases in work pressure and reduced terms and conditions of employment.
All of which de-motivated and de-moralised employers and made them
resistant to accept to change.
The first Blair Government, therefore, sought to promote labour market
flexibility based on minimum employment standards and security of
employment for employees. The latter was to be achieved by active labour
market policies and by improving the employability of employees by their
acquiring and developing new skills (the so-called ``training revolution''). The
provision of minimum standards for all employees within a flexible labour
market was thus designed to promote improved company competitiveness, to
enhance workplace democracy and to provide greater ``fairness'' in the
employment relationship. The minimum rights for employees outlined in the Public policy
previous section were also regarded as important in helping to establish developments,
effective employer and employee relationships in which companies could 1997-2001
prosper.
Minimum labour standards (for example a national minimum wage, pro rata
employment conditions to full-time workers for part-time workers, limitations
on working time, etc) prevent product market competition based on reducing 587
employment costs. They prevent employers from competing on the basis of a
wage reduction strategy. Instead, minimum labour standards provide
incentives for employers to seek competitive advantages by improving the
quality of the products or services they provide, by improving the quality of the
inputs they employ, for example, new technology, by enhancing labour
utilisation and by upgrading the skills of their workforce.
Employee participation in management decision-making is said to enhance
the employees' commitment to their employer. This, in turn, is said to improve
their co-operation with their employer, particularly with regards to accepting
change in working practices. The provision of minimum standards for
employee participation (e.g. the transnational information and consultation of
employees regulations, and the union recognition procedure) provided by the
first Blair Government was thus seen as crucial to building a competitive
economy.
Prior to the first Blair Government, the Conservative Government measures
designed to relax minimum labour standards had given rise to feelings of
unfairness amongst employees. Feelings of injustice and unfairness on the part
of employers, inter alia, depress productivity levels, lead to increased labour
turnover and absenteeism and increased employee complaints about the
alleged ``arbitratory'' nature of management behaviour. Prior to 1997, there was
particularly feelings of unfairness as to the treatment of part-time, temporary,
fixed-term contract workers relative to full-time employees with regards to
employment protection rights and to the fact that when the majority of
employees voluntarily joined a trade union, the employer could refuse to deal
with them collectively. Employees felt the legal right to join a trade union was
of little use if they were unable to use the union in dealing with their employer
over wages and other conditions of employment, over representation at
discipline or grievance hearings and that the employer could discriminate
against them for being a union member.
At the forefront of the first Blair Government employee relations public
policy, therefore, was a strong belief that fairness at work and competitiveness
go hand-in-hand and that one might reinforce the other. As paragraph 2.12 of
Fairness at Work (DTI, 1998) put it:
We want to see efficiency because we want people to work well enough and hard enough to
generate prosperity for the country as a whole. And we want to see fairness because people at
work deserve to be treated decently ± and they perform better when there are efficiency and
fairness are wholly compatible . . .
Employee A central thrust of the Blair Government's employee relations policy initiatives
Relations was to provide fair treatment of employees within a flexible and efficient labour
24,6 market.

Promotion of partnerships at the workplace


The forward to the Fairness at Work White Paper (DTI, 1998) argued that a
588 major objective of the legislation to be based on its proposals was to promote
partnership at work. To facilitate this, Section 30 of the Employment Relations
Act (1999) allows the Government to spend money, directly or through other
organisations, to encourage employers and employees to work in partnership.
Despite the Blair Government's commitment to promote partnership, the
substance (for example in terms of actual practices) of what they mean by the
term, remains unclear. Guest and Peccei (2001) argue most approaches to
partnership draw upon, and are rooted in and informed by one of three broad
theoretical perspectives ± pluralist, unitarist and hybrid.
The pluralist approach accepts there are different interests between the
buyers and sellers of labour services and a key feature of its approach is the use
of representative systems, often though not necessarily, involving trade union
representatives. The unitarist perspective seeks to integrate employer and
employee interests whilst at the same time maximising employee involvement
in and commitment to the organisation. It regards the interests of the buyers
and sellers of labour services as common and that any differences of interest
are based on irrationality. Guest and Peccei point out the hybrid approach
accepts the pluralist tenets and recognises the importance of representative
systems. It also, however, accepts the importance of direct forms of employee
involvement and participation as well as the benefits of management and
employees working together to ensure gains for all parties concerned.
Influential on this hybrid approach has been the work of Kochan and Osterman
(1994) who demonstrated, via a number of case studies, the economic and social
benefits (in terms of job security, increased labour flexibility and productivity)
of union-management collaboration. They argued partnership is based on
reinforcing collective voice mechanisms at the strategic human resource
department and workplace levels. Underpinning this commitment to voice is
investment in training and development and fairness at work.
The first Blair Government's approach to partnership at the workplace is,
with its emphasis on fairness, the right of employees to representation by an
independent voice to their employer and mutual gain approach is closest to the
hybrid approach to partnership. For the Blair Government partnership at the
workplace involves employers and unions working together to achieve
common goals (for example the survival of the enterprise). The partnership
concept is seen to recognise that although employers and employees have
different constituencies and, at times different interests, common goals are
achieved by making common cause. Workplace partnership involves
obligations for employers, employees and trade unions and Blair's first Labour
Government saw as central that employer obligation to their employees be
underpinned by the provision of minimum labour standards and collective Public policy
representation at the workplace via the introduction of procedures which developments,
enable trade union to be recognised for collective bargaining purposes where 1997-2001
the relevant workforce chooses such representation. Indeed, it saw partnership
at work involving employers valuing their workforce by paying them well,
ensuring they receive training and by providing job security. On the part of
employees partnership at work required them to accept change and to ensure 589
businesses satisfy their customers.
The concept of partnership was thus seen as matching employer and
employee rights and responsibilities to each other. The key, therefore, to
orderly and effective employee relations was to establish a fair and effective
balance between employer/employee rights and responsibilities that will
promote partnership, not conflict, at the workplace.

The ``industrial relations settlement''


Since the mid 1960s, there had been no consensus between the major political
parties as what should be the appropriate legal framework surrounding the UK
industrial relations systems. In 1971 the Heath Conservative Government had
introduced the Industrial Relations Act which provided a new comprehensive
legal framework which, inter alia, removed legal support for the closed shop
and exposed trade unions to compensation claims if they undertook certain
types of industrial action (so-called unfair labour practices). The Labour Party
opposed this legislation and committed itself to repeal it at the first
opportunity. Over the period 1974-1979 the Wilson and Callaghan Labour
Governments not only repealed the Industrial Relations Act (1971) but widened
the circumstances in which trade unions could undertake industrial action
without those affected by such action being able to seek re-dress in the Court.
By 1979 there were little, if any, restraints on trade unions' ability to pursue
both primary and secondary industrial action. The Conservative Party was
opposed to such a legal position and committed itself to change radically this
situation when returned to government. Over the period 1979-1993, the
Conservative Governments of Thatcher and Major, introduced legislation
which severely restricted and regulated trade union activities. Each
Conservative Government measure was opposed by the Labour opposition
which committed itself to repeal much of the legislation when it returned to
office.
In the early 1990s, Tony Blair, as the opposition spokesperson on
employment matters, sought to take industrial relations out of politics and as a
first step committed any future Labour Government not to re-establish any
legal support for the closed shop. It was not surprising, therefore, on gaining
office that the Blair Government should seek ``to draw a line under the issue of
industrial relations law'' (see Foreword to Fairness at Work (DTI, 1998)). His
government sought to build a political and industrial consensus for a new legal
framework for the UK industrial relations system. To this end, the Blair
Government sought to establish credibility with employers and in the
Employee consultation period on the National Minimum Wage Bill, the Employment
Relations Relations Bill and the EU Directives made concessions to employer interests
24,6 (Undy, 1999). The minimum wage was set at the level it was because this was
acceptable to the TUC and the CBI. The stability principle was also the driving
force behind the first Blair Government's decision to retain the overall
framework of law governing industrial action (e.g. ballots before industrial
590 action, no picketing except outside the employee's workplace, and no legal
protection for secondary industrial action and the closed shop) and union
governance (e.g. election of executive committees, re-election of general
secretaries and presidents) inherited from the Conservative governments of
1979-1997 and its commitment, after the passage of the 1999 Employment
Relations Act, to introduce no further employee relations legislation before the
next Parliament.
However, as Undy (1999) has pointed out, in respect of a lasting settlement
over the legal framework to surround the UK employee relations system the
Blair Government may only, in the longer run, achieve this in areas outside the
EU influence, for example collective bargaining and union recognition. The
national minimum wage initially opposed in principle by the Conservative
opposition has not been accepted by them. Labour governments of the future,
however, may have to accept further improvements in employee rights to be
informed and consulted in health and safety matters because these are subject
to qualified majority voting in the EU decision-making bodies. In short, by
signing up to the EU Social Chapter, the first Blair Government has made it
more difficult for future UK governments, whether Labour and Conservative, to
prevent the EU spreading its ``good'' social partnership practices within the UK.

A break from the past?


To assess whether the Blair Government (1997-2001) public policy
developments in employee relations represent a continuous and/or departure
from the stances of other governments of the twentieth century, it is necessary
to outline briefly the preferred approaches of these governments. From 1918 to
1979, the UK Governments, regardless of its political colour, accepted that
voluntary collective bargaining was the best means of settling questions
arising between employers and employees over pay and conditions. It left the
parties free to come to their own agreements and the law provided that such
agreements should not be legally enforceable but be binding in honour only.
The Government in its role as a law maker imposed few restrictions on the
right of employees to strike or of employers to resort to a lock out. The 1906
Trades Dispute Act (1906) exempted trade unions altogether from liability
(immunities) to be sued in tort and gave a measure of protection from financial
civil suits for certain acts due in contemplation or furtherance of a trade
dispute. This position was re-established in 1974 following its repeal by the
Industrial Relations Act (1971).
Although governments pre-1979 tended to remain aloof from the process of
collective bargaining, they nevertheless sought in their role as law makers to
support, assist and promote collective bargaining. Since 1891 The Fair Wages Public policy
Resolution, ensured employers engaged on government contracts did not pay developments,
their employees terms and conditions inferior to those established in that 1997-2001
industry/service by collective bargaining. The Terms and Conditions of
Employment Act (1959) and the Employment Protection Act (1975) provided
procedures which enabled trade unions to secure terms and conditions of
employment at a particular site or bargaining unit equivalent to those 591
determined by collective agreements covering similar workers. The Industrial
Relations Act (1971) and the Employment Protection Act (1975) introduced
procedures whereby trade unions could gain recognition from employers for
collective bargaining. Assistance to collective bargaining in the fields of
conciliation, mediation, arbitration and inquiry was provided under the
Conciliation Act (1896), the Industrial Courts Act (1919) and then, from 1974, by
the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.
The Conservative Governments (1979-1997) departed from this
encouragement of voluntary collective bargaining stance. They took the view
that collective institutions such as trade unions and collective bargaining were
unnecessary constraints on the operation of market forces. Accordingly, they
implemented a series of measures at either removing or decisively weakening
the influence of such institutions on the operation of the labour market. Their
programme of legislation was aimed at restricting the ability of trade unions to
organise and to take industrial action and thereby to secure recognition and
pursue successfully their members' interests in collective negotiations. To this
end, legislative measures were enacted which outlawed all forms of the closed
shop and restricted union immunities from prosecution whilst taking industrial
action. These narrowed the definition of a lawful trade dispute, including
making all forms of secondary action unlawful and made such immunities
contingent on the holding of a secret ballot. Further measures repealed the
statutory procedure for securing union recognition set out in the Employment
Protection Act (1975), reduced the scope of lawful picketing, made it lawful for
employers to dismiss strikers and enabled employers to offer preferential terms
and conditions of employment to non-members of unions. There were also
measures to influence the internal workings of trade unions. The Conservative
Governments (1979-1997) removed various institutional supports to collective
bargaining. The Fair Wages Resolution was repealed as were the provisions of
the 1959 and 1975 Act designed to bring an employer into conformity with a
relevant collective agreement.
The Blair Government's public policy developments have been subjected to
criticism. Smith and Morton (2001) argue that the goal of social partnership
embodies a particular view of the appropriate role of labour within the
employment relationship which requires the marginalisation of trade unionism
as an autonomous force. They consider the real intention of the statutory
procedure for trade union recognition and the limited protection from dismissal
for employees taking lawful industrial action is the promotion of complaint of
trade unionism. They believe the devil is not only in the detail of the first Blair
Employee Government's employee relations initiatives but also in their values. For them
Relations the first Blair Government was basically a continuation of the Conservative
24,6 government's free-market philosophy.
Green et al. (2001) also consider the public policy developments of 1997 to
2001 to be a continuation of the de-regulation of labour markets approach of the
previous Conservative Governments. They argue the national minimum wage
592 was set at a derisory level thereby demonstrating the Government's lack of
intention to remedy low pay. They also point to the failure of the first Blair
Government to disallow employers to discriminate against workers supporting
collective bargaining by paying them less than workers agreeing to individual
contracts. With regards to EU Directives, they accuse the Blair Government of
minimalist or obstructive compliance and generally confining them to workers
with a contract of employment. They are also critical of the union recognition
provisions arguing:
. . . that in a different climate in the future, when the employer might be motivated to oppose
unions seeking to gain greater influence over decision-making, this legislation could be used
to undermine collective bargaining, to resist recognition and even to encourage de-
recognition.

If the first Blair government public policy developments are examined in detail,
one sees some continuity with 1979-1997 Conservative Governments' approach
and the 1918-1979 approach. There is continuity with the Conservative
governments' policies in that, apart from the protection from dismissal for the
first eight weeks of those participating in a lawful trade dispute, the restrictive
legal framework established by those governments surrounding industrial
disputes continue unchanged. There is also continuation with the free market
approach in that the 1999 Act contains provisions whereby a trade union can
be de-recognised by an employer and in that provision of the 1993 Act whereby
employers are permitted to discriminate against trade union members who
support collective bargaining by paying them less than workers agreeing to
work in future on individual contracts. The trade union recognition procedure
and the right of individuals to be accompanied in grievance and discipline
hearings by a trade union official regardless of whether a trade union is
recognised at the individual's workplace are supportive of the past approach of
encouragement of the development of voluntary collective bargaining. The
union recognition provisions try, above all, to edge the parties into voluntary
collective agreements which grant recognition to trade unions without
resorting to legal sanctions which exist as a final resort. This is consistent with
the prominent public policy stance of the 1918-1979 period.
Some of the 1997-2001 Blair Government public policy employee relations
developments, however, represent a break with the stance of previous UK
governments. An important departure from the past is the underpinning of the
acceptance of the need for a flexible labour market by the construction of a
framework of individual rights and entitlements. The Blair Government has for
example established for the first time the principle of universal rights to
employee representation common elsewhere in Western Europe. Some of the
new individual rights of employees will be realised through trade unions but it Public policy
is a matter of individual choice of the individual as to how they will obtain developments,
these rights. Developments in the sphere of collective rights also took a new 1997-2001
direction in that UK employees acquired new rights to representation in
multinational companies for the purposes of information and consultation.
Although it can be argued that the employee relations public policy
developments contain developments in new directions as well as continuity 593
with the Conservative Governments de-regulation programme, there are also
elements which are not easy to explain. This is particularly the case with its
attitude to the EU Commission's draft Information and Consultation Directive
designed to establish in all member states the requirement for all companies/
enterprises over a certain size to establish for machinery information giving
and consultation with employees. The Blair Government opposed this draft
Directive on the grounds that the matter is best left to member states and that it
feared employers lose the flexibility to decide for themselves the most
appropriate information and consultation arrangements for their organisation.
Given the decline in trade union membership in the UK and the first Blair
Government's desire to establish partnership relationships at the workplace
between employers and employees, the logical position would have been to be
supportive of the draft directive. Information and consultation is an essential
part of a partnership arrangement between employers and employees.
The public policy approaches to employee relations based on the support for,
and the encouragement of, collective bargaining (1918-1979) and the
Conservative Governments' (1979-1997) de-regulation approach were all well
defined and coherent models. The first Blair Governments' public policy
developments, however, do not represent a coherent approach. They contain
some links with the past and some important departures. It has oscillated
between de-regulation and re-regulation. It measures are ad hoc and some
would say they are based on popularism and opportunism. They certainly,
when taken together, do not represent a coherent ``third way'' public policy
approach to employee relations. If anything they represent an inconsistency.
On the one hand, it justifies its approach on the basis of high productivity and
the need to build a strong economy and for business to be unhindered
bureaucratic restrictions. On the other hand, it recognises that employers have
responsibilities too and thus emphasises the need for them to treat employees
fairly and decently. At times, the first Blair Government succeeded
simultaneously upsetting the TUC and the CBI, particularly over the
implementation of the Working Time Directive.

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