Are there any significant differences between 'traditional' plant and company-level collective bargaining and the new concepts of 'partnership' at these levels?
'Social Partnership' is the Involvement and Participation Associations proposal for a closer relationship built on trust and mutuality between management and trade unions. Increased product market and global competition has meant that many companies are having to re-think their industrial relations strategy and approach to collective bargaining.
Likewise, trade unions are having to reassess their position in the workplace as management are rediscovering their prerogative. One of the approaches adopted by some companies is in the form of this 'partnership', united in a common purpose. the key element of this model is the exchange of job security for flexibility. In this context this paper will focus on the private sector for its analysis as this exchange would not be an issue in the public sector where job security has always been a part of the collective agreements. This paper will first examine the rhetoric of 'social partnership' and assess whether in this new approach there are any significant differences between this and the traditional plant and company-level collective bargaining. finally, it will go on to briefly examine any similarities which may emerge.
The Phenomenon of 'Social Partnership'
'Towards Industrial Partnership' was a project launched by the Involvement and Participation Association(IP A) in 1992. The IPA recognised the need for a fresh approach to industrial relations, a 'social partnership' between management and unions. This approach is being proposed as the way forward for British industrial
relations. The TUC are advocating this alliance between employers and unions over issues of common interest and purpose, for example, health and safety, training, productivity and equal opportunities.
These are issues which normally would fall outside the realms of collective bargaining. The underlying basis of these 'new deals' is the exchange of job security for flexibility.
Employees are offered increased job security in return for job flexibility, 'there needs to be an understanding which underlines the very close links·between, on the one hand the security of employment ......and on the other genuine flexibility between jobs' (IPA 1992).
Although job security is not a new concept the IPA in their consultative document make a distinction between job security and employment security, security does not mean the same job for life but a commitment from the company to employment within the company and redundancies to be voluntary. The lPA identified three distinctive features of this new partnership; commitment to employment security, single status and sharing financial reward and an employee voice.
These new deals have received much public attention and they are based on the European Social Partnership model and the three that feature most commonly in the discussion of 'partnership' are by Rover in 1992, Scottish Power in 1995 and Blue Circle Cement in 1997. Employment security and flexibility are central to these deals. The lPA in their document stressed the importance of
a 'stable employment framework' and the only way of achieving this it says is via employment security, this being the cornerstone of any partnership model. For example at Blue Circle Cement, a commitment on employment security is a key feature and according to the senior AEEU shop steward Derek Warren, the policy has managed to take away peoples' fears and insecurities and produced a stable job culture. Single status and harmonisation is seen as a starting point for 'social partnership' as it is seen to bring about the cultural change required by the organisation. at Scottish Power a new grade structure was implemented under the terms of the new...
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