Sectoral Collective Bargaining: making it work
The final speaker at the conference was John Hendy QC, the Chairperson of IER. He presented his thoughts on how sectoral collective bargaining should work. He started by emphasising that sectoral collective bargaining is a central feature of the Manifesto for Labour Law. He evidenced the need for reform by highlighting that real wages have not risen for many years whilst profits continue to soar; state benefits are subsidising poor paying employers on a scale never previously known; and only 20% of workers are covered by collective bargaining, the remainder relying upon the whim and goodwill of the employer.
This is the second lowest level of collective bargaining coverage across Europe; only Lithuania has a lower level at 15%. This is why collective bargaining has to be restored on a massive scale. The four pillars forming the basis for collective bargaining are based on the recognition of the imbalance of power between worker and the employer; the redress of inequality; the recreation of the workers’ voice; and the economic argument, which shows collective bargaining is good for enterprises as well as for workers.
The previous wages councils form a model for sectoral bargaining, which can be tweaked to meet the demands of the modern workforce. The new Ministry of Labour would be responsible for re-establishing sectoral bargaining. It would have powers to determine the boundaries of sectors and the establishment of an industry joint council for each sector. Trade unions would have to decide which unions should sit on each council. The Institute would want to see a model disputes procedure to overcome any deadlock and ultimately industrial action could be taken. Where this is not appropriate, the Secretary of State should have power to impose on the Joint Council three independent members to determine an outcome.
The Institute would suggest a list of mandatory subjects coming under the purview of the Joint Councils, which along with the obvious terms and conditions would include training and skills, promotion, equal pay, removal of gender pay gap etc.
John felt this would encourage trade union membership to engage in their workplaces, a participatory democracy in which workers would have a say in their futures. Whilst this places a burden on trade unions with increased resources needed, John felt sure that the unions would rise to the challenge.
Download John Hendy’s presentation
In the subsequent discussion, questions were posed regarding the impact on migrants of the collective bargaining mechanisms and how young people can be engaged in this new industrial environment. This latter point was answered by John Hendy with a plea to trade unions to take responsibility to educate its membership on the future role envisaged by the Institute’s Manifesto. Sarah added that immigration and visa restrictions needed to be addressed separately and that the Education Secretary needs to get schools to ensure young people understand better the world of work and their rights.
The conference chair brought proceedings to an end by exhorting delegates to be multipliers on what has been heard and to spread the message beyond the conference.