unions are the main and traditional way of representing employee’s interests. Trade unions have a significant importance especially in the public sector and within the private sector as well. The primary purpose of trade unions is to represent and defend the interests of workers in an organisation. However, in recent years trade unions have lost their influence. A clear and vast decline occurred in membership of trade unions globally. Now days, most of the working class have no access to unions. They have lost their significance and popularity as well. As trade union density has fallen, new organisations have found a creative and different ways to fulfil their employee’s needs. So, these days trade union cannot claim to be an only source of representation for workers.
In this essay it will be discussed that why employees needed other ways for their representation. Similarly, different ways of representation of working class will be discussed as well. This essay will also conclude effectiveness and weaknesses of the methods, used for worker’s representation.
The need for new methods:
The main purpose of trade unions is to regulate employment contracts with management through collective bargaining. In past few years, this dominant role of trade unions has considerably fallen in public sector and faded in much of private sector as well. Only, 17 percent workers of private sector had fixed their terms and conditions with employers through collective bargaining in 2010. In last ten years, a drop of eight percent occurred. The fall with twelve percent, is even higher in public sector. These days, less than quarters of employees are members of trade unions. The membership density of trade unions in private sector is about 14 percent. While, in public sectors trade union have still membership density of 48 percent.
Trade unions not only represent employees in collective bargaining but their role is much wider in many work places. They have to represent employees in grievance, disciplinary matters and training issues. Unions usually discuss management proposals and plans through consultative committees. These days, there is wide and growing representation gap, which is very difficult for trade unions to fill. Today, most of the working population consist of those, who are not members of trade unions and they have no approach to trade union representation at work. In those public and private sectors, where unions do not exist, yet employee voice is needed.
In such organisations, workers demand such effective alternatives that can fulfil this representation gap. Employees need some form of “voice” that can help them in dealing problems at work place. Particularly, they want to develop a cooperative environment with management, which help them in improving their working lives and firm performance as well. The “voice” is not just needed to help employees but it helps to improve overall progress of organisation as well. According to recent European Company Survey, those firms which use most extensive range voice systems, have usually higher average productivity as compared to others. This is the reason that even, organisations encourage such non-union voice systems but they tend to see them as being supportive of firm’s efficiency not of worker’s interests and benefits.
Despite of decline, still trade unions are considered as strong force in employment relations. Trade unions have a significant influence particularly, in public sector. They partially impact the private sector as well. But trade unions can no longer claim that they are the only source employee’s representation and only way of communication between workers and employers. In last 20 years, significant changes have occurred in employment relations. These changes have developed several new ways by which workers receive information and news about their firms and they influence organisational decisions as well, by being able to raise issues and matters which concern them. Alternative methods of worker representation, work in a different way than of those formal meetings between representatives of trade unions and employers.
The interest of organisations in employee engagement has significantly influence those aspects in employment relations, which allow and leads workers to the greater commitment with their firms. One of the most important motivations of engagement for worker is having a voice and being listened. Today, direct communication and involvement and extensive use of electronic media have extensively increased the opportunities for employees to communicate and respond management decisions. These days, consultative committees are considered as the significant voice system for workers. The popularity of consultative committees is enhancing, particularly, in private sector. Similarly, in many countries workers use worker’s councils as an effective voice system. Likewise, social media and representation of workers on supervisory boards play a vital role in filling representation gap and helps employees to communicate effectively with employers. Besides of, having hope in growth and progress of employees voice system, still economic adversity and many rules and regulations have limit the possibilities for workers to impact the organisation decisions. The developments in workers voice, their weaknesses and strengths will be discussed in following paragraphs.
Direct Involvement and Communication methods of Employee Voice:
In last 20 years, there has been a significant growth in the utilisation of direct communication methods. According to the 2004 workplace Employment Relation Survey, the workplaces with ten or more workers, which use face to face communication methods, are about 92 per cent. Seven years earlier, this percentage was about 85 per cent. The non-union organisations held a meeting of all workers on monthly basis. In these meetings, senior managers addressed their employees and in these meetings they have ten per cent of time for their workers, in which they share their views and ask questions. About more than half of employers arrange team briefing sessions at least one time in a month. Normally, front line managers led these types of sessions and again minimal of ten per cent of time available for employees in such sessions to ask questions and to express their views. Usually, matters of most significance concern like production issues, employment matters, work organisation and future plans are discussed in these sessions. Sometimes, they discussed financial problems as well in such meetings.
Considerable, development can be seen in direct communication and involvement methods. Such methods are more reliant for managers and they mostly, prefer such methods. In 2009 European Company Survey, it was asked from managers that if they agreed with statement that “we would prefer to consult directly with our employees”. All around the Europe, about sixty percent agreed with this statement and among them, one fifth said that they strongly agreed. In United Kingdom, this trend is much stronger. About, 72 per cent preferred the use of direct involvement and communication system and of these; a quarter said that they strongly agreed. Most of the managers of multi-nationals, in UK and USA strongly emphasises direct methods of communication.
Now days, employees usually, prefer to receive information directly from their employers instead of their representatives. That is the reason they prefer workforce meetings and team briefing sessions. However, these briefing sessions and work force meetings, usually, last for just 15-30 minutes and at the end, mostly, they have very short time period for questioning. So, opportunity for workers participation and meaningful dialogue remain very little in these sessions. This method has structural limits as well and mostly it does not have capacity to put impact on higher level management decisions, especially, on those decisions, which management take at head offices, away from workplace. However, this way is suitable for downward communication. Additionally, some defects in this method are because of big difference between what higher management intends to deliver and what often line managers delivered.
Use of Electronic Media:
Today, in many non-union organisations electronic media like internet and social media are used as effective employees Voice Avenue. These days, electronic media significantly influences the way employers link and communicate with their employees. It provides new opportunities to workers as well to link with each other and to share their views to higher authorities. Now days, using internet and social media information can be transferred within seconds. This rapid sharing of organisational data and information significantly influences the organisations.
In particular, electronic media impacts the organisations in two different ways. Firstly, internet and social media provide potential to managers to share organisational information rapidly with their employees and to consult workers. Secondly, it helps workers as well to gain strong collective voice. By using electronic media, employees become able to respond quickly to issues and matters discussed in meetings and in consultative committees. Representative of employees remain strongly attached with their constituents by using such quick means of mode. It is predicted, that in future direct communication means like social networks can dominate consultative committees in non-union organisations. However, in non-union organisations electronic media still does not dominate as a most effective voice system. Its potential as most efficient voice system is yet to be realised.
Employee Engagement and Employee Surveys:
Employment engagement in itself, does not consider as employee voice. Indeed, it is a desirable result of employment practices, including wider use of effective voice system and fine leader shop. Employment engagement means commitment of worker with their work, management, colleagues and to their organisation. Employee voice is one of the four factors of employee engagement. Other four factors are integrity, engaging managers and leader ship.
Mostly, managers use surveys on monthly basis to assess the employee engagement and to identify barriers and difficulties. These surveys are not efficient form of employee voice. Usually, such surveys failed to work as a diagnostic tool. Some managers do not report back rapidly the results of surveys. This happens particularly, in such situations where these surveys are critical of management. Despite, useful in capturing workers opinions, these surveys cannot be effective mode for sharing and expressing employee’s views.
Representation on Supervisory Boards:
In Europe, employees represent their interests by appointing their representative to the supervisory board of such former state businesses, whose ownership has changed. In the act of 1996, it is stated that in order to protect their interests’ workforce will select two-fifth members of supervisory board on the commercialisation and privatisation of state enterprises i.e conversion of enterprises into partnership, provided that the only shareholder of partnership is state treasury. According to survey of Ministry of Treasury, about 600 such organisations were there in 2001.
In such non-union organisations, employees have a right to choose 2 members of such supervisory boards, which consist of up to six persons. Similarly, in such supervisory boards which consist of seven to ten members they have a right to choose three members. Likewise, in those consisting up to 11 or more, they have right to select four members. Additionally, those companies which developed in course of commercialisation and employing more than 500 persons per year, there workers have a right to choose one member of management boars as their representative.
Unfortunately, this representation of workers on supervisory board is just symbolic. In the end of 1990s, a research was conducted among representatives of employees on supervisory board. The attitude of representatives about their role was quite surprising. About more than half believed that they must represent the interests of whole organisation or its owner. One fifth of them thought that interests of both organisations and owner are equally significant. Only, one fifth of them said that they should represent employee’s interests primarily. This voice system has limited approach. It does not exist in those private companies, which developed since 1990s or in those state enterprises, which became directly privatised.
Act 1981 addresses about employee’s self-government. Employee’s self –government has long history and tradition in Poland. According to this act employees can use “Worker’s Councils” as their representative in state-owned enterprises. In April 2002, Europe also adopted the Poland’s act about worker’s councils and challenged the monopoly of trade unions.
Worker’s councils have many rights according to law. These councils have authority to approve and amend company’s annual plan. Worker’s councils can make investment proposals as well. Moreover, they can claim for change in direction of development of company. Even, they have authority to approve and deny decisions according to their interests. Worker’s councils also have a significant influence on appointment or dismissal of managers and directors. Additionally, they can pass certain recommendations on company’s laws and regulations as well.
Currently, this form of representation of employee’s interests has very little significance and there are certain reasons for this. Economic transformation processes has badly affected the worker’s self-government. This is misleading concept that worker’s councils hinder the privatisation of companies. Practically, most have them have adopted very passive attitude and they have limited their role. Additionally, a clear decline can be seen in number of worker’s councils. State enterprises have opportunity to get rid of this through commercialisation and privatisation. Worker’s councils abolished automatically after the change of ownership from state to some other hand. According to report of Ministry of Treasury, in 2000 about 2,385 state enterprises were present but in 2001 the figure decreased to 1,938.
Consultation means a right to be informed about plan, prior to its implementation and having opportunity to express views. This demands consultative committees, where representatives of employees meet with higher management and discuss about future business plans, employment issues and other matters as well raised by workers. In British Employment Relations, consultative committees have long history. In UK employers mostly, use such committees as a substitute of trade unions.
According to research in UK in 30 organisations, two main types of consultative committees work. In first type, consultative committees work as an ‘active consulters’. They work as active consulters in such organisations where management took pro-active approach to consultation. Mostly, business plans and proposed business decisions like restructuring are discussed in such meetings. To participate in such meaningful discussion, representative of workers had to be very competent and organised. In such organisations usually, management organised training sessions for representatives to encourage and tell them that how to respond in such significant matters.
In second type, these committees work as ‘communication body’. In such organisations, management usually, does not place business decisions on agenda in meetings for discussion. Mostly, they discussed issues raised by workers representatives on behalf of workers like toilet issue and housekeeping matters. Normally, such representative bodies are comparatively less efficient than those working as active consulters. Consultative committees in both cases use direct communication method.
According to 2004 WERS, only 14 per cent workplaces with 10 or more workers had consultative committees. While, this percentage enhanced for bigger size workplaces. About 75 per cent of work places with 200 or more workers had consultative committees. It is bitter truth that management always become dominant in consultation matters, as they are the one who set the parameters of agenda in meetings. Mostly, management for sake of their own interests favours such type of employee involvement but they object to their legal enforcement, particularly, when management have fear that it will critically hit their interests.
In past, trade unions represented workers in historical way. But in last few years, a great decline occurred in popularity and influential role of trade unions. Today, most of the organisations do not recognise trade unions. So, employees of such organisations had to choose other means to protect their interests. Today, workers utilise different sources for their collective voice. They use several methods like direct method, worker’s councils and consultative committees to communicate with management effectively.
These new methods
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