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Bargaining for Productivity: National Report UK

Bargaining for Productivity: National Report UK

Veersma, Uilke, William, Laura ORCID: 0000-0002-1985-7640, Antunes, Bethania and Symon, Graham (2017) Bargaining for Productivity: National Report UK. Project Report. European Commission. (Submitted)

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The UK stands apart from other G7 countries, and indeed the rest of Europe, with its low levels of productivity. The current Conservative Government have attempted to address these concerns through the introduction of a “strong” industrial policy. Despite such an attempt to strengthen the UK’s productivity, this policy has been met with criticism. Trade unions and professional bodies alike have criticised the policy for lacking infrastructure and investment to translate the policy into improved productivity outcomes. In this context, this project investigates productivity bargaining in the UK in four sectors, manufacturing (automotive), retail, hospitality and healthcare. In each of these four sectors, four areas were investigated, pay and reward, voice and participation, skills and work organisation and inclusion and diversity. Drawing on results from qualitative interviews with social partners in each sector the results show little attention paid to productivity in the UK.

The main finding of this national report is an employer preoccupation with lowering unit cost and the dominance of the financialisation agenda. Across the sectors, pay and reward practices mainly revolve around either performance based pay or seniority pay. We found little evidence of voice and participation, as there are low levels of trade union membership with the exception of healthcare, and a narrow scope with non-union employee participation. Working conditions are generally not covered by collective bargaining, with the exception of healthcare and the automotive sector. In the automotive company where we undertook the research, there was a high level of involvement and commitment, particularly from core workers, but this mainly focused on quality enhancement and incremental innovation. This is a Japanese inspired type of management which is more common for the sector and has also its impact on other sectors.

Social partners in each sector reported a lack of investment in skills. Although a lack of skills and skilling initiatives have been reported widely, employers seem to be more concerned to deploy a short-term strategy and rather attract employees with bonuses if needed rather than develop and implement long-term investment.

Inclusion and diversity initiatives mainly focused on gender related issues, but were usually reactive rather than proactive. In general, such strategies were not core to the business and their impact was limited, in most cases. Inclusion and diversity actions were mostly driven by the business agenda rather than social justice rationale. In particular, organisational change for the long term was rare.

The report concludes, therefore, that productivity does not play an important role in the UK. Productivity, however, is very relevant for the UK and has potential to lead to change in the workplace, but the nature and impact of productivity is often contested at this level. Decentralised collective bargaining within this liberal market economy has led to workplaces with weak unions and a management preoccupation with lowering unit costs. Healthcare stands apart in this respect with its multi-union, nationally determined terms and conditions. Yet despite this more European model of collective bargaining, the sector still experiences a lack of investment in skills, a preoccupation with unit cost and limited attention to inclusion and diversity.

Item Type: Monograph (Project Report)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Productivity, UK, Employee Relations, Labour Regulation
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Business
Faculty of Business > Department of Human Resources & Organisational Behaviour
Faculty of Business > Centre for Work and Employment Research (CREW) > Work & Employment Research Unit (WERU)
Last Modified: 15 Jan 2019 16:59

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