Employee relations is a branch of human resource management that is concerned with relationships of employees within an organization. According to Wilton (2010), employee relations have become significant in practice due to their increasing diversity and complexity. This is because organizations have continued to change their human resource management approaches. Similarly, global patterns and practices of human resource management have changed overtime due to an increased need to appreciate the role of human resource to achieve competitive advantage for the organization. Over a period of the last 20 years, employee relations have undergone a rapid change in several aspects e.g. legislation. As a result, organizations re-examined their employee relations with the aim to adopt good communication strategies and involve employees in decision-making (Peccei, Bewley, Gospel, & Willman 2010).
Generally speaking, trade unions are collective organizations, which consist of workers and union leaders working together to protect workers’ interests and promote their collective interests. Their principal roles include collective bargaining their discrimination, grievance resolution, enumerations, and working conditions (Wilton 2010). However, the role of trade unions in employees’ relations has intensified due to the increased need to integrate workers' actions to increase their bargaining power. This is so because it becomes very easy to properly identify the demands of employees by collaborating with them. Hence, they are willing to be part of success of any company that thrives and shows growth and development due to their effective and efficient employees. This is because as Govan (2009) posits that trade unions set out to ensure that both organizational and individual goals are achieved. It seeks to establish a respectful relationship between employers and employees.
The country being used as a case study is the UK. The UK has experienced changes in employee relations since Margaret Thatcher's government in 2009 that sought to do away with trade unions and instead promoted employee-employer relationships owing to civil unrest experienced in the late 1980’s. This also introduced new forms of employment policies that have resulted to a sharp decline in trade unions' membership and their influence on management (Katz & Darbishire 2000).
One of the elements of employee relations that is being observed and studied are employment policies and practices of employing organizations. Traditional forms of employment are being done away with. The new trend of employment that has been adopted since 1989 is based on working on agreement basis (Hollinshed & Taibly 2003). New forms of work introduced include arrangements like part-time, temporary, and fixed-term employment. Part-time and temporary employment types represent precarious work, which is a term that refers to workers that do not imply full-time employment. These jobs are associated with disadvantages like lack of collective representation and job security. Nevertheless, they still increase job flexibility, and thus an individual, who is multi-skilled will not be tied to one job (Joseph 2004). This ensures that salary is based on work performance of individual employees rather than on joint agreements. This has been implemented by ensuring that employees enter into legally binding contracts with their employers. This has led to a decline in trade union membership since workers feared losing their jobs or being unable to get another job (Evans & Gibb 2009). In addition, their ability to influence management through collective bargaining has declined (Hollinshed & Taibly 2003). Moreover, due to introduction of new forms of work, most jobs are now service based rather than being part of traditional manufacturing industry, and thus most employees are now in charge of their careers and do not require joining trade unions (International Labour Office 1993).
In addition, many organizations are now adopting work force management, which is a system, intended to maximize on using part-time workers through encouraging staff to meet specific targets to increase productivity (Rouse 2012). This makes organizations view employees as assets since it reduces the risk of errors and maximizes profits. This can be achieved when employees will be used to perform duties they are conversant with. These trends will ultimately lead to employees shunning away from trade unions since an individual with multiple skills can still do many jobs at the same time (Rouse 2012).
Salmon (2007) claims that restructured trade unions boost quality and standard of business operations and services that are being provided. Stewart (2010) argues that presence of a trade union will see that individuals are given responsibilities based on individual expertise and availability since trade unions encourage specialization and division of labour. There is also development of personal relationship, which is an ingredient of improved service delivery within any given organization (Drinkwater & Ingram 2005). Restructured trade unions ensure that timely decisions are made and actions taken in an organization. Finally, restructured trade unions symbolize strength and presence of first-rate trade union within an organization. This will ensure that positive results are attained and profits are increased. In addition, it ensures that the success rate of any given organization is increased and set goals are achieved (Howell 2005).
Another element is legal framework of the country. In the UK, the government was against collective responsibility, which led to introduction of legislation that limited ability of trade unions to represent employees in collective bargaining (Gennard & Judge 2005). Legislation has also allowed individuals to decide whether they need to be represented under the collective bargain or negotiate their own terms with the employer. This has significantly reduced the number of employees in trade unions, and those who remain also have the power to contest actions by trade unions. This has resulted in a situation, where management is not being forced to meet certain collective bargaining requests and has brought about bargaining for what is considered appropriate (Drinkwater & Ingram 2005). Due to this fact, management became empowered to choose between what documents to present to trade unions for negotiations, which limited the scope of collective bargaining (Brien, 2009, p. 49).
Legislation in the UK now includes employment rights and laws that address issues like working time, rate of employee wages, non-discrimination against employees despite their roles in the organization, and grounds for dismissal. These laws bind employers to adhere to certain standards, thus reducing chances of unfair employee treatment within the organization (Bewley et al. 2010).
Trade unions in Britain are becoming autonomous and voluntary institutions that have to react to employee dissatisfaction in a positive manner. According to Rubinstein & Kochan (2001), legal recognition of trade unions by companies does not guarantee that they will represent their members fully when negotiating wages and benefits. With a growing competition and battle for a market share, employees, especially those, who contribute significantly to company’s superior performance, are treated as a valuable asset of the organization (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht 2009). Most organizations strive for their retention and recruitment of other high profile personnel through awards and attractive incentives to increase organizations competitive edge and profitability. This has undermined work of trade unions. Trade unions execute their mandate based on the philosophy of collective bargaining. Long-established bonus plans and their function are gradually being substituted by merit-pay systems. In general, trade unions have opposed and mistrusted the operation of merit-pay systems (Pullin & Haidar 2000). They have conversely appreciated the use of performance appraisal as a mechanism of identifying and acting in response to training requirements. Union representatives have been fully conscious that any connection of bonuses to performance is a prospective menace to collective bargaining. Availability of incentives will weaken their bargaining power through creation of unfavorable labor relations as asserted by Nissen (2002).