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How CSOs are shaping employment relations

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) such as Stonewall, Age UK, Citizens UK, and MacMillan, are playing an 'increasingly prominent role' in British employment relations, according to a new report from Acas.

The Acas Policy Discussion Paper Civil Society Organisations - A New Employment Actor unravels the different ways that CSOs are shaping the world of work, and how they are gaining influence in an increasingly 'complex and fragmentary' employment relations landscape.

What CSOs do

For the most part charities and voluntary organisations, CSOs usually rely on donations, grants and government contracts to fund their activities, most of which are aimed at 'the two extremes' of the employment structure.

At the individual level, CSOs provide rights-based information, and advisory and advocacy services for their members or constituents.

Many provide 'labour market services' to help members find or retain work or build careers. Some occupation-specific CSOs, such as Women in Manual Trades, offer training, mentoring, networking and job placement services too.

At the other extreme, CSOs exert political influence at 'local, national, UK and European' levels, using 'protest and other actions' to exert pressure for change.

Many also serve on commissions and committees and receive substantial funding from Government to provide services or help implement policy. In this capacity, 'it is soft power, expertise, legitimacy and the ability to access hard-to-reach minorities' which is the basis of their influence.

Between the extremes, the report said, many CSOs also look to shape the employment practices of employers. This could be by offering corporate membership, partnerships, and identifying good practice through voluntary codes, advice, guides, training, consultancy, award schemes, and accreditation.

Primary architects

The measures used tend to bolster the 'business case for diversity', through 'valuing difference', 'voicing difference', and flexible employment to accommodate the needs of 'carers, the disabled, older workers and others'.

Together, CSO action constitutes 'a substantial attempt to develop private voluntary regulation of the employment relationship, a set of rules that employers can follow, enforced not by legal sanction but by the promise of enhancement of corporate reputation or performance benefits'.

According to the authors, there is now a multi-layered system of regulation, including joint regulation from collective bargaining; employment law supported by statutory codes; and 'private voluntary regulation', of which CSOs are the 'primary architects'.

The report said that in the 'hybrid' and 'multiform' character of 21st-century employment relations, the influence of CSOs is such that the 'established actors' - Government, employers, and trade unions - will 'increasingly need to respond to their presence'.

Acas publications and services

The publication pdf icon Civil Society Organisations – A New Employment Actor [389kb] is available for free download from the Acas website.

Acas experts can visit your organisation and help you develop effective and appropriate equal opportunities, and dignity at work policies. See Equality and diversity: how Acas can help for more information.

Practical training is available on Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010, as well as an Employment law update to keep you on top of the latest legislative developments.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

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

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