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From the White Paper on Fairness at Work,it seemed that the enhanced protection of “collective rights” was central to New Labour’s industrial relations settlement. Reforms were promised relating to diverse matters such as blacklisting, discrimination against trade union members, trade union recognition and industrial action. Moreover, the Blair Government sought to portray trade unions as suitable representatives of workers in the context of grievance and disciplinary procedures, appropriate recipients of information and consultation and potential contributors to a new “culture of labour relations”. This culture was encapsulated in the term “partnership”.
This book examines the rhetorical claims made in the White Paper (and later in Parliament) alongside the actual reforms contained in the Employment Relations Act 1999. These developments are studied in their broader context, including Britain’s recent industrial relations history and the perceived need to find a “third way” which navigates between pre-existing Labour and Conservative ideologies. The pressures placed on British policies by international and European organisations are considered as are the other social, political and economic dynamics which shaped the Government’s policies. A detailed account of the new statutory provisions is provided, together with an analysis of their potential impact.
A careful and detailed analysis of these reforms reveals the limitations of New Labour’s industrial agenda. Ironically, these legislative changes are primarily individualistic in their orientation. It is the individual employer and employee who constitute the chief parties to the new “partnership” which is to be the employment relationship. Trade unions are not “social partners” essential to the protection of workers’ interests but, rather, potentially useful mediators who must prove their value by acting responsibly and co-operatively. Additional rights and protections are bestowed on the individual trade union member, but the trade-off would seem to be greater responsibilities for trade unions. Ultimately, individual choice is given priority over collective bargaining and action. The difficulties which will arise from such a limited agenda are explored here.
This book is intended to have a broad readership. It will be of interest to academics and students of labour law, industrial relations, politics and related disciplines. Its aim is to give them an opportunity to place in context what New Labour is doing in the field of employment law and what it is not prepared to do. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------