Collective Bargaining – The Only Way To A Fairer Britain For All

13 November 2013 By Sarah Glenister, IER Staff The IER's manifesto to restore workers' right to fight collectively points to a decent future for our country.

Commentary icon13 Nov 2013|Comment

Sarah Glenister

National Development Officer, Institute of Employment Rights

13 November 2013

By Sarah Glenister, IER Staff

The IER’s manifesto to restore workers’ right to fight collectively points to a decent future for our country.

A major two-year review from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and University College London’s Institute of Health Equity recently showed that income inequality in Britain is having a dire impact on public health.

It is causing the country to fall behind other developed nations in terms of key indicators such as women’s life expectancy and infant mortality.

Professor Michael Marmot, who led the review, said poverty and public health are intrinsically linked, warning that the large number of young people not in education, employment or training (neets) in Britain is “a public health time bomb waiting to explode.”

Income inequality has long been known to be a critical factor in a whole host of national issues, including public health, the strength of the economy and unemployment rates.

While many will blame the global recession for the burgeoning number of neets and the extent of child poverty – which the study shows is higher in Britain than even in much smaller economies like Estonia – economic depression is a problem we have faced before, and one Britain has successfully tackled.

Following the major downturn of the 1930s, not only Britain but also the US and developed nations in Europe rebuilt their economies hand in hand with trade unions.

Sector-wide collective bargaining was encouraged in order to raise wages and improve conditions.

With more money in their pockets, workers were able to spend more, thus creating an increase in demand for products and services and a spate of job creation.

As the employment rate is driven higher our economy grows stronger and more resilient.

But only if the jobs people take on are real jobs – work that pays, not work the state is forced to subsidise.

This is the vision behind the Institute of Employment Rights’ latest publication Reconstruction after the Crisis: A Manifesto for Collective Bargaining, which comprises policy proposals to widen the impact of collective bargaining.

The recommendations of authors Professor Keith Ewing and John Hendy QC, both renowned legal and public policy experts, have also been condensed into a 10-point manifesto which has found widespread support in the labour movement.

Launched just one month ago, the manifesto has already been officially endorsed by 15 major unions and has been described by RMT general secretary Bob Crow as “a vital tool in our struggle to build democracy and equality in Britain.”

Backers include Unite, Unison, the GMB, NUT, NUJ, PCS, CWU, UCU, ATL, AEP, RMT, TSSA, Aslef, POA and Bectu.

The proposals include the establishment of a Ministry of Labour to provide workers with a voice in Parliament to balance out corporate interests, the gradual reintroduction of sectoral collective bargaining, an overhaul of trade union recognition legislation to ensure more workplaces have a trade union presence and a right for every worker to be represented by their trade union in work-related matters.

Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey says it is high time to “forge a new deal for workers based on statutory support for collective bargaining.”

“It is vitally important that a statutory framework for collective bargaining is achieved in order to protect workers’ rights after decades of their eradication,” POA general secretary Steve Gillan points out.

And NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet argues that “employers should be compelled to accept and promote the benefits of a constructive dialogue with workers’ representatives aimed at reaching agreements to improve working conditions.”

Indeed, falling wages and conditions were a key concern for all union leaders supporting the manifesto.

“The government boasts about an illusory rise in employment. In reality, desperate people are being forced into precarious jobs on poverty pay,” GMB general secretary Paul Kenny notes.

He adds that it is time to “go beyond empty statistics and create real employment that makes a real difference to life in the UK.”

Anxiety also abounds about the threat of further anti-trade union measures proposed by the coalition, which have already extended the restrictions on collective action put in place by Thatcher in the 1980s and perpetuated by consecutive governments ever since.

“There is no excuse for the removal of negotiating rights from teachers and thousands of other public-sector workers,” NUT general secretary Christine Blower says. “Collective bargaining is at the heart of trade union activity.

“Applying the strength of the collective to the struggle for fair and decent living and working conditions of each worker.

“And it’s successful, leading to higher pay and better conditions.”

Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ leader Mary Bousted also highlighted that forthcoming changes to the Tupe regulations are a threat to workers’ protection and will make access to collective bargaining for education professionals all the more important.

“We fear [the new Tupe regulations] will weaken the protection offered to workers following a transfer from the public to the private education sector,” she explains.

Collective bargaining is also a powerful tool to abolish the use of exploitative contracts, as negotiating on conditions from the top helps to ensure that unfair employment terms do not get through.

“An alarming number of those employed in the public sector, particularly the care sector, are trapped on precarious contracts such as zero-hours contracts,” Unison assistant general secretary Karen Jennings warns.

“If collective bargaining – particularly sectoral bargaining – was in place employers would not have free rein to bring in zero-hours contracts and other exploitative terms. The IER’s manifesto lays out realistic and progressive measures to make this a possibility.”

The Manifesto for Collective Bargaining continues to attract support from unions nationwide and the number of organisations endorsing the proposals is growing by the week.

To Keith Ewing and John Hendy taking measures to increase collective bargaining coverage is the only way to effect a strong and sustainable economic recovery – and it will leave us with a fairer and healthier society.

“There will be no long-term solution to current economic gloom without raising wages and equalising incomes.

“Only by doing so will we stimulate demand, increase spending, and create real and fully productive jobs that do not need to be subsidised by the state,” Ewing told delegates at Unite’s national industrial sector conference yesterday. Hendy will be addressing delegates tomorrow.

Support the Institute of Employment Rights’ Manifesto for Collective Bargaining by sharing our 10-point manifesto or buy a copy of the book – only £10 to trade union members.

Originally published by the Morning Star

Sarah Glenister

Sarah Glenister Sarah Glenister Sarah Glenister is the Institute of Employment Rights' IT Development and Communications Assistant.