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Report highlights role of trade union reps strong in face of recession

Friday 25 April 2014

A new report looking at trade union representation in both union and non union British workplaces has found that the number of representatives have remained broadly stable over the recent recession.

The report, commissioned by workplace experts, Acas, and conducted by Professor Andy Charlwood and David Angrave in Loughborough University's School of Business and Economics, analysed the Workplace Employment Relations Study to review worker representation between 2004 and 2011.

Gill Dix, Head of Strategy at Acas, said:

"This study shows that over the last recession, trade union representatives have proved more resilient than was the case in previous recessions with the number of union representatives remaining stable at around 150,000.

"However, there has been some significant change too not least in the manufacturing sector which has seen a dramatic 40 per cent drop in the presence of representatives. To an extent this is balanced out by an increased number of union representatives in the public sector. This is against a backdrop of union recognition and membership levels remaining broadly stable since 2004."

The report also found that:

  • In 2011, representatives were spending more time on their representative role (an average of 13 hours per week), and a majority were paid by their employer to do so;
  • Union reps paid greater attention to recruitment and organisation in 2011 than 2004 - in 2011, 80% of reps said they had tried to recruit new members in the last 12 months, compared to 64% in 2004;
  • Union representatives remain more widespread that non-union representatives with the latter being fewer in number (45,000 compared to 150,000 union representatives), spend less time on their representative role and tend to have a consultative role instead of negotiating over issues that affect the workers they represent;
  • There are signs of a more extensive and formal role for non-union representatives following the introduction of the 2005 Information and Consultation Employees (ICE) regulations.

The study warns that the overall stability in numbers masks considerable differences between sectors and representation increases in the public sector may point to growing disquiet amongst staff. The introduction of statutory rights for workers to be consulted about changes to the organisations they work for (the ICE regulations) does not appear to be associated with an increase in non-union worker representation but it has meant better communication between management and employees.

Professor Charlwood said:

"The latest figures demonstrate a long term shift in the types of workers unions represent, from manufacturing and the private sector to the public sector.

"The increase in the number trade union representatives in the public sector is likely to be in a direct response to the recession, as workers experience increasing grievances relating to pay, redundancies, pension cuts and restructuring.

"Where organisations have systems of worker representation in place, we have seen more frequent meetings between representatives and managers and an increase in the range of issues representatives receive information on, as well as greater resources to carry out their representative role."

The full paper is available on the Research papers page, or by downloading pdf  Worker representation in Great Britain 2004 – 2011: An analysis based on the Workplace Employment Relations Study [361kb].

Notes to editors

  1. Loughborough is one of the UK's leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.
  2. It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year title in 2008-09 and has been named Sports University of the Year 2013-14 by The Times and Sunday Times. Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education's 'table of tables' and has been voted England's Best Student Experience for six years running in the Times Higher Education league. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.
  3. In 2015 the University will open an additional academic campus in London's new innovation quarter. Loughborough University in London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will offer postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.
  4. The Workplace Employment Relations Study is a nationally representative survey of managers, worker representatives and employees in British workplaces that employ five or more people. The 2011 survey is the sixth in the series, dating back to 1980 an was co sponsored by ,the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, the Economic and Social Research Council, Acas, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (supported by the Nuffield Foundation) and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills,
  5. Acas stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. We aim to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. We help with employment relations by supplying up-to-date information, independent advice and high quality training, and working with employers and employees to solve problems and improve performance. Acas is an independent and impartial statutory body governed by a Council made up of members from business, trade unions, academia and the law.
  6. Contact for all media enquiries at Loughborough University: Hannah Baldwin, Head of PR. Loughborough University
    T: 01509 222239. E: H.E.Baldwin@lboro.ac.uk
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