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Recent trends in union density and collective bargaining coverage Essay


Currently, trade unions in the United Kingdom pass through a period of crisis because these organizations no longer have a strong influence on the relations between workers and employers. Declining rates in union density and bargaining coverage indicate that employees do not want to be represented with the help of trade unions. This paper is aimed at discussing the current status of these organizations.

In particular, one should review statistical data that can throw light on the role played by labor movement in the United Kingdom. Moreover, this paper will include a discussion of the factors that contributed to the declining influence of trade unions on labor relations. Finally, it is important to explain the possible relevance of trade union representation.

These are the main questions that should be examined more closely. On the whole, it is possible to say that the decline of trade unions can be explained by the willingness of business administrators to meet the needs of workers.

Furthermore, employees believe that they can properly protect their interests without unionization. Nevertheless, the opportunity for union representation is not completely disregarded by British workforce because it can be a useful safeguard against possible infringement on their rights. These are the main arguments that can be made.

Overall, skeptical attitude toward trade unions is largely based on the statistical trades that have been observed during the last decade. Much attention is usually paid to the declining union density. For instance, in 2008, more than 70 percent of British employees were disorganized (Pollert 2010, p. 63). Furthermore, collective bargaining coverage fell from 85 to 30 percent (Pollert 2010, p. 63).

It should be kept in mind in the private sector, the unions have been almost marginalized. As a rule, private businesses resist the unionization of employees (Noon & Blyton 2007). Yet, the main issue is that many workers want to be represented by trade unions. In their opinion, they can successfully cope with possible problems without the assistance of labor unions.

They believe that they have a strong bargaining power. These are the reasons why so many researchers have become extremely skeptical about the role of these organizations in the future. Judging from these data, one can say that trade unions can eventually become marginalized.

This is one of the possible outcomes that should be considered. In the United Kingdom, trade unions played an instrumental role in the seventies and eighties when more seventy percent of the workforce was unionized. Therefore, one should understand the underlying causes of this dramatic change.

The factors which diminish the role of trade unions

These changes can be explained by several factors. In particular, modern managers in the UK prefer to communicate directly with workers without involving any mediators (Purcell & Hall 2012, p. 4). In particular, they organize regular meetings during which workers can express their opinions about various aspects of employment relations (Noon & Blyton 2007).

In many cases, this strategy has been helpful for avoiding conflicts and strikes which produce detrimental effects on the performance of many companies (Noon & Blyton 2007). Furthermore, business administrators use opinion surveys in order to understand the challenges that workers encounter (Purcell & Hall 2012, p. 6). Certainly, this approach is not always effective, but it can be used as a substitute to trade unions.

Overall, one can argue that modern managers have become more attentive to the needs of workers. In this way, they attempt to minimize the influence of labor unions on managerial decisions and long-term policies of businesses. To some degree, their strategies have been rather effective.

Apart from that, it is critical to remember that workers look for alternatives forms of labor representation. Such initiatives are also supported by business administrators who do not want to negotiate with independent trade unions. There are different approaches to non-union representation.

For example, many employees are willing to work consultative committees that discuss various aspects of HR policies with the management (Purcell & Hall 2012, p. 6). Such groups must be informed about future managerial decisions, and they can take part in the development of policies that can better suit the needs of workers. This is one of the examples that can be considered.

Furthermore, in many businesses, there are employee councils or groups of workers that could represent the interests of other staff members (Lloyd 2001). The members of these councils are selected by other workers, and they should help the management better consider the needs of employees.

Therefore, many workers believe that they can properly protect their interests without the support of trade unions. Such an attitude is widespread among people who believe that their bargaining power is very strong. As a rule, such people are very skilled professionals. This is another trend that should not be overlooked.

Additionally, one should not forget about the increasing unemployment in the United Kingdom. Under such circumstances, employees are extremely concerned about their job security (ACAS 2010, p. 1). This is why they do not to oppose the decisions of managers or take part in strikes (ACAS 2010, p. 1).

Therefore, external economic environment also influences the attitudes of workers toward trade union representation. This argument is particularly relevant if one speaks about low-skilled employees whose compensation is not very high. These are some of the major issues that should be taken account by researchers.

Overall, one can argue that managers are able to exclude trade unions from negotiating if they pay attention to the concerns or arguments of employees (Butler, Glover, & Tregaskis 2011).

Furthermore, the labor legislation in the United Kingdom minimizes the risk of significant conflicts between managers and workers (Butler, Glover, & Tregaskis 2011). These are the main factors that are important for explaining current status of trade unions in the country and their future role.

The need for trade union representation

Yet, there is some evidence which can demonstrate that trade unions cannot be completely dismissed. For example, one should speak about the increased number of collective disputes in the United Kingdom (ACAS 2010, p. 2). It should be kept in mind that during recessions, many employers may take advantage of workers’ position (ACAS 2010, p. 3).

In turn, trade unions can help employers and workers to resolve such tensions with managers and protect their rights. Therefore, it is possible that in the future, a greater number of employees may require trade union representation because more people can be affected by the recession. Moreover, one should keep in mind that there are still at list six million union members in the United Kingdom (Purcell & Hall 2012, p. 2).

These people work in governmental and non-governmental organizations. These people work in the public sector, automotive companies, or financial institutions (Purcell & Hall 2012, p. 2). In most cases, these individuals belong to such groups as frontline personnel or first-level management. These people believe that without trade union representation, they will become more vulnerable.

Thus, even considering current trends, one cannot say that the trade unions will become completely irrelevant to British workers. Thus, the role of trade unions can be better understood, if one looks at the functioning of specific industries in which workers tend to be more organized. This is one of the limitations that should be considered.

Apart from that, these organizations can help employees resolve various issues related to work-life balance, for instance, scheduling or working hours (Rigby & O’Brien-Smith, 2010, p. 216). Furthermore, these organizations are critical for supporting employees who have children. In many cases, people’s discontent with their job originates from the failure to establish the balance between work and personal life.

Sometimes, they can rely on the assistance of trade unions. To a great extent, these agencies can help the managers and workers to develop solutions that can suit both sides (Rigby & O’Brien-Smith, 2010, p. 216). Thus, it is important to speak about the benefits that trade unions can bring to employees, even though these improvements are not necessarily related to compensation.

Moreover, it is vital to remember that lack of representation can eventually enable employers to dictate their terms to workers. Many of them can face various forms of victimizations such as unfair termination or long working hours without compensation.

These difficulties are encountered by low-paid employees. This situation can be observed in various businesses such as cleaners, hospitality industry, small factors, or care homes (Pollert 2010, p. 80). Therefore, it is possible to say that such individuals will eventually seek the assistance of labor unions in order to protect their interests.


Admittedly, the role of trade unions has decreased in the United Kingdom. However, one should not suppose that these organizations have been come completely irrelevant.

Employees can use the assistance of these organizations, if they believe that their rights are violated. At present, they do not require union representations, because employers are more willing to resolve potential conflicts and minimize the risk of strikes.

Currently, there are many workers who want to negotiate the terms of their on an individual basis. Nevertheless, U.K. workers can still consider labor unions as one of the solutions to their conflicts with the management.

It is vital to remember that the importance of trade unions can become apparent at the time when the bargaining power of workers declines (Simms, Holgate, & Heery 2012). So, the declining rates of union density are not sufficient for demonstrating that labor representation is not important for workers.


Overall, the discussion indicates that the relations between workers and employees can be described as the continuous search of compromise. At present, businesses and workforce try to reach an agreement without assistance of the mediators such as trade unions.

However, it is critical to remember that these organizations remain as a valid alternative which can become of great value to workers at the time when their bargaining power declines. These are the main details that can be singled out.


ACAS 2010, Riding out the storm: managing conflict in a recession and beyond. Web.

Butler, P., Glover, L. & Tregaskis, O 2011, ‘When the Going Gets Tough’… : Recession and the Resilience of Workplace Partnership’. British Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 49, no.4, pp. 666–687.

Lloyd, C 2001, ‘What do Employee Councils do? The impact of non-union forms of representation on trade union organisation’, Industrial Relations Journal, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 313-327.

Noon, M & Blyton, P 2007, The Realities of Work, Third Edition, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Pollert, A 2010, ‘The Lived Experience of Isolation for Vulnerable Workers Facing Workplace Grievances in 21st Century Britain’, Economic and Industrial Democracy, vol. 31, no.1, pp. 62-92.

Purcell, J & Hall, M 2012, Voice and Participation in the Modern Workplace: challenges and prospects. Web.

Rigby, M & O’Brien-Smith, F 2010, ‘Trade union interventions in work-life balance’, Work, employment and society, vol. 24, no.2, pp. 203–220.

Simms, M, Holgate, J, & Heery, E 2012, Union Voices: Tactics and Tensions in UK Organizing, Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

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