In recent years, the labour market in United Kingdom has recorded exceptional performance compared to other nations. The increase in employment opportunities, coupled with robust labour market policies has significantly reduced the unemployment levels by about 1 million people.
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In addition, the real annual wages growth in the private sector and public sector has increased by 2.75% and 2.5% respectively (Fitzner, 2006, p.6). It is now over three decades since the Donovan Commission concluded that workplace unionism acted as “lubricant not an irritant” with respect to the management of employee relations (Bryson, 2005, p.1111).
It is worthy to note that employee relations is subject to structures and practices that underline the relationship between workers and management including the work experiences of individuals (Oysterman, 2000, p.64). The managerial opinions with respect to management-employee relationship will vary from views of non-managerial employees for several reasons (Bryson, 2005, p.1111; Capelli and Neumark, 2001, p.738)
First, HR managers are limited with regard to airing their criticisms than other workers since they are officially responsible for employment relations. Second, the interests of non-managerial employees may be dissimilar from those of managers resulting in a diverse evaluation of the management-employee relationship. Third, the decisions made by managers are based on dissimilar information than workers.
Fourth, managers and workers may hold different viewpoints which might make them assess the information in dissimilar ways (Bryson, 2005, p.1112). For instance, a manager in favour of unitarist point of reference may construe an employee protesting as a mere “letting off of steam”, and that the employee will resign from his/her position if he/she feels frustrated (Bryson, 2005, p.1113).
On the other hand, an employee with a pluralist frame of reference may infer the same protest as a manifestation of moribund employment relations 2005, p.1113). This report will therefore evaluate and compare employee relations in Great Britain and Greece. Emphasis will be given to the legislative as well as the social processes adopted in both countries to manage employee relations
Employee Relations Strategies in Great Britain
The public policy discussion on social partnership has in recent times been focused on United Kingdom’s industrial relations. After the Labour Party was elected to the office in 1997, the government’s Employment Relations Act and ‘Fairness at Work’ programme brought about unprecedented rights for employees as well as unions.
The government’s goal was to substitute the impression of disagreement between employees and their employers with a long-term partnership between the two. This new public policy structure compels managers to incorporate unions into the decision-making process (Bacon and Storey, 2000, p.407).
Partnership in Industrial Relations
The contemporary debate on employer-employee relationship has developed against the backdrop of contraction in combined industrial relations (Bacon and Storey, 2000, p.408). This situation has been made manifest in a number of ways, especially, the overall decline in union appreciation, from 65% to 45% between 1984 and 1998 respectively. For example, there were no unionized employees in 47% of workplaces in 1998.
This is a reflection of the significant alteration with regard to the landscape of British employment relations which has produced a “representation gap” (Bacon and Storey, 2000, p.408). A good number of employees have consequently been denied effective representation thereby triggering public debate with respect to the role of public policy to address this impasse (Bacon and Storey, 2000, p.408).
In spite of the fact that majority of unions have withdrawn from many workplaces; managers have also scaled down the importance attributed on joint agreements in those situations where trade unions remain relevant. According to the findings of the Workplace Employee Relation Survey carried out in 1998, “there is an even deeper ‘hollowing out’ of agreements…even where union representatives are present (Bacon and Storey, 2000, p.408).
In 50% of the workplaces with employee representatives, there were no concessions taking place over any matters. It is against this backdrop of the waning influence of unions that recent public declarations have sought to promote the concept of partnership approach with respect to industrial relations among all relevant parties (Bacon and Storey, 2000, p.408; Capelli and Neumark, 2001, p.738).
However, the inherent ambiguity of the term, partnership, remains the central issue in light of industrial relations in Britain. For example, the interpretation of the term partnership by one party may significantly differ from that of another party (Bacon and Storey, 2000, p.409).
Another issue pertains to the commitment of the managers and unions with respect to the new forms of relations that involve closer collaboration. It is worthy to note that there are dissenting opinions at the centre of both Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Confederation of British Industries (CBI) with regard to whether partnership is the best option for industrial relations. For example, the CBI is against the government concept of social partnership while TUC is in favour of membership growth with respect to industrial relations (Bacon and Storey, 2000, p.410).
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Both the unions and managers may not consider a partnership agreement as the first choice. For instance, at United Distillers, “de fact de-recognition” was the alternative for unions (Bacon and Storey, 2000, p.410). In such situations where distrust is prevalent, partnership agreement may not be the best option to enhance relations between unions and managers.
What’s more, the future for this approach (partnership) is entirely subject to what it can deliver. If the partnership approach diminishes labour unions’ influence with respect to decision-making processes, then the passion for this approach is likely to diminish (Bacon and Storey, 2000, p.410).
The Role of Employers’ Federations
Both private and public employers’ in the Great Britain are organized in dissimilar ways. The importance each association lends to employee relations varies in terms of the scale of unionization in its particular sector, the type of the industry it represents as well as the tradition in the sector.
It is common knowledge that those associations that are particularly concerned with employee relations include those firms that employ semi-skilled as well as skilled workforce in regions where the prevalence of a single industry (for example, printing or engineering) is high (Gennard and Judge, 2005, p.152). There are three types of employers associations in Great Britain:
- National federations-such as the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) – to which local employers’ associations are allied.
- Single confederations- i.e. British Ceramic Confederation- with national membership.
- Single national associations; for example the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF). This federation (BPIF) is split into six distinct areas to facilitate representational and administration activities (Gennard and Judge, 2005, p.153).
Employers’ federations comprise of varying sizes of companies, from the smallest to the largest. It is important to mention that employers’ organizations have been in existence since time immemorial. Nonetheless, some evidences suggest that the eminence and influence of employers’ organizations has diminished in recent years.
For instance, according to the Workplace Employee Relations Survey done in 1998, the role of employers’ bodies, in their capacity as regional negotiating associations as well as sources of information and advice, has significantly declined since 1980s. This pattern is a clear indication that there has been a general trend for management to be taking up accountability for their employee relations (Gennard and Judge, 2005, p.153).
Nonetheless, a substantial number of employers’ federations continue to engage in joint agreements at national level. In addition, national agreements, such as in paper manufacturing, general printing, electrical contracting, road haulage and constructions still exist in private sector.
What’s more, pay arrangements are still prevalent for physicians and nurses in the public sector. For example, the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts (an employers’ association) offers evidence to the relevant pay review body. However, in most industries, national agreements have waned since the percentage of workers represented in collective negotiations declined from 70% to 40% between 1994 and 1998.
National accords tend to be prevalent in industries controlled by small-scale firms that operate in labour markets characterized by extreme competition. For these firms, which lack sufficient resources to set up a personnel function, the national agreement is still considered as the best option for offering an employee relations infrastructure to the industry via the processes (e.g. complaints & disputes) enclosed in the agreement (Gennard and Judge, 2005, p.153).
The Role of British Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
Since its initiation, one of the key functions dispensed by ACAS with respect to employee relations is pacification in tribunal claims. ACAS officers obtain information relevant to claims from tribunals and then engage the parties to evaluate the possibility of a settlement. The fact that most of the claims do not proceed to a full hearing is a proof of their success in this regard.
Prior to the establishment of the rules of procedures in 2004, the tribunal office would take up the responsibility of making plans for the hearing regardless of what ACAS was doing to address the matter. As it stands now, the role of ACAS with regard to conciliation is restricted to a set period in all except equal pay and discrimination cases.
There will be short and standard conciliatory periods of seven and 13 weeks respectively. The first (short) conciliation period will purely apply to claims related to money. These will include infringement of contract as well as statutory redundancy payments. The second (standard) period will cover all disputes that do not fall into the short payments. The main purpose of the time limits is to assist the concerned parties focus their minds on reaching an amicable agreement before the tribunal hearing date.
Nevertheless, this may be unfavourable to all parties given that ACAS intends to apply them firmly. Nonetheless, it is worthy to appreciate the fact that it is usually in the days preceding the tribunal inquiry date that an agreement between the concerned parties is reached. If such a situation happens, the role of ACAS in conciliation is rendered irrelevant (Gennard and Judge, 2005, p.115).
In 1971, the Conservative government enacted unfair dismissals law, as part of the Industrial Relations Act; in light of the International Labour Recommendation (ILO) No. 119  which is addresses termination of employment. The law restricted the right of the employer to terminate employment without payment or by legal notice.
The employer bears the burden of proof to provide reasons for dismissal. The reasons provided must be solid enough to demonstrate that the employee was redundant or violated some statutory requirement to justify his/her dismissal from holding the position in question. In some cases, the tribunal has to establish whether the discharge was fair or not in light of the reasons provided by the employer.
Control over employments has been de-personalized in a manner that the employer can only sack an employee after the due procedure of the labour law is followed. In addition, there is a swift option for an aggrieved worker who can submit his/her complaints to an employment tribunal within 90 days after his/her dismissal. According to the law, the successful employee may be issued with an order of re-engagement or reinstatement (Hardy, 2011, p.161).
Employment Relations in Greece
According to the World Bank’s report titled, Doing Business 2009, Greece is ranked at position 133 in the world. This report examines and ranks business regulations in 181 economies by employing 10 stages of a business. One of the criteria used in these rankings is employee relations and it is against this backdrop that Greece was ranked among the poorest countries (Ioannou, 2009, p.13).
It is thus important for managers in Greece to focus their attention on the crucial details of the national regulatory approach that applies to industrial relations. An important aspect within the national approach is the employment relations and the regulatory structure for the labour market in Greece. In many instances, the national employment relations and labour market in Greece appears as a present-day labyrinth due to the country’s specific factors.
For example, the labour market regulation approach in Greece, although increasingly shaped by the European Union (EU) practices and legislations, still remains national. In addition, the regulation systems are disjointed and the appropriate legislations are not well coded. What’s more, there is insufficient information (in English language) about employment regulations in Greece.
It is worth to mention that, under circumstances, it becomes extremely difficult for managers (especially foreign managers) to administer the best HR practices and cope with employment regulations in Greece (Ioannou, 2009, p.13; Laursen and Foss, 2003, p. 243).
Trade Unions in Greece
The first trade union in Greece was formed by carpenters and shipbuilders in 1879. In the same year, the first labour strike took place. In 1882, the second strike occurred in Athens and Pireaus. At present, the financial makeup of the labour market in Greece is extremely disjointed as a result of the prevalence of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). As of now, there are two confederations that represent the Greek trade union at the highest level (Lanara, 2007, p.10).
These are: the Confederation of Public Servants (ADEDY); and Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE). The managerial structure of the trade unions in Greece assume a form of pyramid comprising of three levels of representation: primary level (regional, company or craft unions); secondary level (sectoral federations and local labour centres); and tertiary level (national confederations including ADEDY and GSEE).
Membership of trade unions is dissimilar between the public and private sectors because the latter is dominated by SMEs-i.e. 97% of small enterprises employ less than 20 workers. There are three employer organizations that play a key function in the industrial relations in Greece: General Confederation of Professional Craftsmen and Small Manufactures of Greece (GSEBEE); National Confederation of Greek Trades (ESEE); and Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) (Lanara, 2007, p.10).
Employers’ federations and trade unions control their own relations in Greece and this right is protected by the Greek Constitution. All the terms and conditions related to employment are enshrined in the constitution and augmented by joint accords between the concerned parties. If such agreements fail to materialize, they are consequently referred to relevant arbitration organizations.
Currently, the law [1876/1990] has replaced and greatly adjusted the older restrictive framework to facilitate joint agreements. The law lends credence to the decentralization of negotiations, freedom of collective accords as well as non-state interference in dispute settlement.
Furthermore, the law offers five categories of joint agreement: local occupational; national occupational; enterprise; industries; and national general. Labour unions and/or employers federations not bound by any accord have the option to implement it. Occupational as well as industry-level agreements may be enlarged and enforced to all employees in Greece (Lanara, 2007, p.13).
The law distinguishes joint agreements in Greece into several classes. The EGSSE establishes the minimum salaries and wages for employees in Greece. Sectoral joint agreements enclose workers of various companies and signed by sectoral associations of employers and workers (Laursen, 2002, p.141).
The national occupational and regional/local occupational joint agreements are signed by occupational trade unions and employer associations. GSEE usually invites employers’ associations to the bargaining table to sign a new EGSEE which is valid for a two-year period. Issues related to salaries and wages as well as non-salary matters are also incorporated in the EGSSE. When disagreements emerge, the Organization for Mediation and Arbitration (OMED) is usually invited to arbitrate (Lanara, 2007, p.13).
Wages and Working Time Developments
The National General Collective Labour Agreement (NGCLA) signed between the top employers’ federations and the Greek General Confederation is the most critical instrument used to regulate employment terms and conditions in light of the free collective negotiations (Kousta, 2011).
NGCLA’s political and institutional clout stems from its legally binding attribute, which encloses all forms of employment relations in the wider private and public sectors. In addition, the NGCLA also includes the public services for all subordinate employees as well as the ever-wider participation of the social partners in social and economic developments (Lanara, 2007, p.14).
The minimum wages stipulated by NGCLA at national level in Greece is £ 679. The minimum wage does not vary for different categories of employees. Nonetheless, the total wage of an employee is determined by other criteria such as education level, family status and period of employment. It is also important to mention that the legal working time for all employees is 40 hours per week.
The NGCLA also plays a key role in the social and economic sphere of Greece since it sets the minimum salaries and wages for employees. In other words, NGCLA sets a guaranteed level of wages for all employees, establishes minimum levels of general welfare protection as well as the guidelines for sectoral joint labour accords.
The constitutional right to joint negotiation which is enshrined in law [1876/90] also covers all employees engaged in a private-law employment agreement by foreign or local employer and operation of the public or private sector of the economy. This comprises individuals employed in stock-rearing, agriculture, as well as domestic workers (Lanara, 2007, p.14).
In addition to joint negotiations, social discussion between NGCLA and national employer federations is an integral part of consultation and participation. National institutions and social dialogue procedures in Greece have made significant strides within the context of the community directives on adaptation and seeking agreement on the European Union policy guidelines.
Given the prevalence of a feeble tradition for social dialogue in Greece, all the main political organizations and social partners have concurred on the need to promote and encourage social dialogue. The need to implement the EU’s social policy has promoted collaboration among major bilateral organizations. The justification was to strengthen weaker facets of industrial relations systems in Greece, especially in areas such as lifelong education, career training as well as safety and health at workplaces (Lanara, 2007, p.14).
The adoption of EU Support Frameworks and especially ESF (European Social Fund) has significantly played a key role with regard to the development and sustenance of social dialogue institutions and procedures. The establishment of Hellenic Institute for Occupational Health Safety (ELINYAE) is one such institution that emerged from the accord between employers’ federations and GSEE.
This accord was reached, in light of the 1991 General National Collective Labour Agreement (GNCLA), to create an establishment that can offer scientific and technical assistance to safety policies, hygiene and work health. The effectiveness of social partner collaboration is evidenced by the attainment of the training needs as well as the financial and logistical support provided for national training institutions and procedures (Lanara, 2007, p.14).
There is no doubt that both Great Britain and Greece face numerous challenges with respect to employee relations in their respective countries. Nonetheless, both governments have made significant efforts to ensure that the social and economic needs of employees are addresses in appropriate ways.
In recent years, the labour market in UK has achieved exceptional progress in relation to other nations. Employment opportunities have increased while the real annual wages in the private and public sector has risen by 2.75% and 2.5% respectively (Fitzner, 2006, p.6).
Furthermore, the government’s Employment Relations Act and ‘Fairness at Work’ programme given new rights for worker and unions (Bacon and Storey, 2000, p.407).
In spite of the fact that Greece is ranked among the poor countries in terms of labour policies and practices, the government has made significant legislative and social policy changes to improve labour relations in the economy. some organizations have been established to champion for the rights of employees in Greece.
For example, the National General Collective Labour Agreement (NGCLA) signed between the top employers’ federations and the Greek General Confederation is the most critical instrument used to regulate employment terms and conditions in light of the free collective negotiations (Laursen, 2002, p. 64). All the terms and conditions related to employer-employee relations are enshrined in the constitution and augmented by joint accords between the concerned parties.
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