To what extent has British employment relations changed since 1980?

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Employment Relations HM3022 Adam Tilston 00302568

Employment Relations HM3022


By Adam Tilston

                                Reg No 00302568

Nature and Context of Employment Relations

  1. To what extent has British employment relations changed since 1980?

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher and her new Conservative party were voted in as the party to change Britain. A seventeen-year span running from 1979 to 1997 saw two Prime Ministers at the helm of a major change in Employment Relations. Mrs Thatcher believed that Britain should go back to the “Golden Years”, where there was high production and employers ruled with an iron fist. Britain was in a poor state, their were strikes after strikes after strikes and the Conservative party had ways of dealing with these problems, dissolve some of the power trade unions had, and hand this power back to employers. This started the ball rolling for continuous decline in Trade Union membership to name one feature of change. The Government wanted to reduce Trade Union power and also reduce employees statutory rights.

These changes that were brought about by the Conservative party of the 1980’s, were said to be “frequent and controversial”. These emphases have had a great effect on Employment Relations, especially on the labour market.

Mrs Thatcher believed that the Trade Unions held too many cards and measures had to be taken to tip the scales in favour of the employers. Rose (2001) quotes this as “ neo-laissez faire” or new liberalism. Before looking into the changes that were rung in by the Conservative’s, I feel it important to establish the main characteristics of this government. According Rose (2001), they were:

  • “A resurgence of capitalist values (free enterprise, open markets, deregulation, individualism, privatisation) and abandonment of Keynesian economics
  • “Avid pursuit of monetarist supply side economics”
  • “A concerted attempt to weaken the fabric of collective bargaining in order to allow market forces much greater impact on pay and conditions of employment”
  • “The gradual dismantling of Tripartism”

The main legislation changes that were brought in the 1980’s were in the form of the Employment Relations Act (ERA) 1980, 82, 88 and 90. The act primarily focused on the reduction of Trade Union power, laws on picketing, reduction of ballots and the eventual abolishment of pre-closed shops. Before these acts were introduced, there was relatively little legislation effecting industrial relations. The 1980 ERA brought in new measures that primarily focused on industrial action, picketing and closed shops. Immunity industrial action had against civil action was removed unless it fell under strict criteria. New rules on picketing meant that it was restricted and lines were drawn on where employees could “lawfully” picket.

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The 1982 ERA saw a “new definition of a trade dispute”. Rose (2001) points out that “strikes are only ‘immune from legal action if they fall inside the legal definition of a trade dispute.’ After the act was brought in, industrial action was only deemed to be lawful if it relates “wholly or mainly” to the issues raised at the time. New limitations on trade union immunity were introduced and further restrictions on the closed shop were implemented in 1982.

1988 saw the introduction of the CROTUM. This was a commissioner who “had the power to assist union members taking ...

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