Partnership agreements between unions and employers are at an all time high, but industrial relations are still often confrontational.
An annual survey of union relations covering 207 large employers and 42 trade unions described a “frenzy” of partnership activity over the past year, with 700 approaches made by unions.
The study by City law firm Dibb Lupton Alsop published last week found that about 265 deals were agreed while a further 280 are still being negotiated.
But the positive news is soured by widespread balloting for strike action, with four in 10 unions involved in balloting last year and four in 10 employers experiencing it. Despite partnership talk and low levels of action, 84 per cent of unions said they still view the threat of strikes as a useful bargaining tool.
Furthermore, 72 per cent of employers said managers and shop stewards are not trained to work in a partnership agreement.
Paul Nichols, DLA partner and co-author of the Industrial Relations Survey said, “The rhetoric of partnership is genuine from the leadership but has not yet reached the shop floor. Shop stewards need training but only 55 per cent of unions are giving training on partnership.”
Dominic Johnson, head of employee relations at the CBI, said the high incidence of balloting but low number of actual strikes shows that brinkmanship and game playing are still a common feature of employment relations.
“If the people in the frontline of employment relations aren’t changing their behaviour then the fine words of a partnership agreement are unlikely to be delivered,” he said.
Sarah Veale, senior employment rights officer at the TUC, said the findings should be taken with a pinch of salt. “Often deals that are set up as partnerships, aren’t, while others that aren’t called partnerships are in practice.”
• Industrial Relations Survey, DLA 08700 111111
By Dominique Hammond