Unite, Unison and the GMB are now the most commonly recognised trade unions in the UK, according to research by Personnel Today’s sister publication Employment Review.
The survey of 90 employers, covering a combined workforce of almost 1.2 million, shows that the three unions – the largest in the UK – command the lion’s share of employer recognition (see chart).
In addition to the nine listed in the chart, respondents mentioned negotiating with other unions, including the Independent Democratic Union – a non-TUC affiliated organisation recognised by the Automobile Association, and UBAC, the union for Bradford & Bingley employees.
Eighty-eight per cent of the respondents recognised one or more trade unions for collective bargaining purposes for at least part of their workforce, while one-third recognised three or more.
Thirty-six (46%) said they had been involved in a collective dispute with their trade union in the past two years.
Pay was the biggest bone of contention in such disputes, with pensions also causing conflict. Other triggers included working time, restructuring, harmonisation, and ‘two-tier’ terms and conditions of employment.
However, 20 of these employers still described the state of industrial relations in their organisations as either ‘good’ or ‘very good’, suggesting that such action need not necessarily cause irreversible damage.
Overall, when asked to describe the current state of management/union relations in their organisation, 22% described them as ‘very good’, while 47% said they were ‘good’, 24% said they were ‘neutral’, and just 7% described them as ‘poor’.
The basis of good relationships came down to open, two-way communication and information-sharing an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence between the parties well-trained and effective union representatives, and partnership working – in some cases underpinned by a formal partnership agreement.
The TUC said more than six-and-a-half million people in the UK have opted for union membership – about one-quarter of the working population. However, this pales in comparison with the combined membership of about 13 million in 1980.