Employees' rights have deteriorated to a point where conditions could be coming ripe for a resurgence of trade unionism, according to analysis of the most authoritative survey of the subject available.
The former senior civil servant responsible for the study says, however, that the influence of unions is still waning, with little evidence for the much-heralded spread of progressive management practices to replace them.
Neil Millward, now a senior fellow at the non-aligned Policy Studies Institute, believes that British industry and commerce 'are moving towards a situation in which most employees are treated as 'factors of production', rather than as human beings, with hopes, aspirations and rights'.
After analysing the latest official Workplace Industrial Relations Survey, Dr Millward concluded: 'It will soon be the case that few employees have any mechanism through which they can contribute to the operation of their workplace in a broader context than that of their own job.'
He believes that while 'team briefing' was widely adopted in the late Eighties as a method of communication between managers and employees, other means of communication grew slowly or not at all.
Dr Millward's 160-page book The New Industrial Relations?, published by the PSI, points out that consultative committees or 'company councils' have become less common. The study is the second major report arising from the 1990 Workplace Industrial Relations Surveys for which he was responsible while at the Department of Employment.
The analysis was based on interviews with nearly 5,000 managers and employee representatives at more than 2,000 workplaces. Dr Millward found that the single- union deals pioneered by the EETPU electricians' union as an alternative to the old confrontational unionism, have had little impact.
Recently created workplaces with at least 25 employees give an insight into how employee relations are developing, Dr Millward believes. He said that very few of them had union members or recognised unions.
Plant closures had made no contribution to the decline in the unionised sector of industry and commerce. 'That decline arose from the much lower rate of recognition among new workplaces and the growing practice of derecognition,' he said.
None of them had union agreements that limited management's freedom to organise work, but there were some signs of employee resistance to the use of this freedom.
Dr Millward believes that the 'master-servant' relationship may be returning.
The New Industrial Relations?; the Policy Studies Institute, 100 Park village East, London NW1 3SR.Reuse content