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A new era for employee relations?

Employee relations have changed dramatically since the 1970s and 1980s, when many millions of working days were lost to industrial action. On average, 12.9 million working days were lost every year in the 1970s and 7.2 million days in the 1980s. Over the last twenty years, however, the yearly average has been just 630,000.

On the whole, the fall reflects an overall improvement in the relationship between employers and trade unions. A new report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) entitled 'Managing employee relations in difficult times' suggests there has been a sea-change in approach. Many organisations now view unions as important stakeholders and both sides are better at working to resolve conflicts. It claims the emphasis has shifted from managing conflict when it happens, to preventing conflict before it starts.

Rather than keeping unions at bay, managers are now more likely to see the value in maintaining a longstanding and good-natured relationship with unions and representatives. The better the mutual understanding engendered by regular meetings during less pressured times, the better the resources for resolving problems when they arise.

The report also outlines how trade unions have moved away from relying on stoppages and walkouts for leverage. Instead, they have subtler tools in the armoury to get their points across. It cites ballots for industrial action and street demonstrations in which unions strike a common cause with the broader community as having been particularly effective in recent years.

Acas provides a range of training courses on Conflict management to improve employment relations and to give managers a better understanding of how to address and resolve issues before they escalate. The courses are run in locations across the country or can be tailor-made to your workplace.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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