What were the main effects of the 1979-1997 Conservative governments’ reforms to collective labour law and what distinguishes the approach taken by the current Labour administration?

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Collective Labour Law: The Impact of 'New' Labour

What were the main effects of the 1979-1997 Conservative governments' reforms to collective labour law and what distinguishes the approach taken by the current Labour administration?

In order to answer this question "collective labour law" must be explained and defined so the effects of each government can be focussed in the appropriate area. This essay will then move on to examine the situation prior to 1979 so as to assess the extent of the Conservative administrations' impact of collective labour law at that time, a type of 'before and after' measurement. Having done this, the emphasis will switch to examining Thatcherite and Conservative ideology hoping therefore to explain the mechanics of the legislation that the Tories then introduced. It's effects will then be assessed.

After this point this essay will turn it's attention to Labour Party ideology, in order to use it as a means of putting into context the legislation which the party has introduced, this will then be assessed in greater detail. The link between 'New' Labour's administration and the European influence will also be examined at this point in the essay, and how this has impacted on British collective labour law. A summary will then be given and all conclusions will be drawn together in order to answer the set question.

Brown (1993) said, "It is generally more useful to use the term [collective labour law] to cover a broader set of joint regulatory behaviour, whereby employers deliberately permit representatives of employee collectives to be involved in the management of the employment relationship." This generally means that employers choose to liase with union representatives to discuss the manner in which the company is run and debate issues affecting its' employees. Collective labour law is the legislation outlined by the government that regulates this area of bargaining and discussion, including union regulation, recognition, membership, organisation and industrial action (of all kinds).

The Labour Party, formed in 1893, has its' roots firmly in the industrialisation era. It is traditionally working class in membership. Jon Monks (cited in Salamon pg104) said that "Labour and the trade unions had shared values: primacy of collective bargaining, expansion of the welfare state and state intervention to promote economic growth and employment." The Labour Party was elected to power in 1974. Though as 'New' Labour the party has now adopted "The Third Way" at that time, it still supported the Corporatist ideology, part of which meant supporting the trade unions and collective bargaining. During this time, trade unions "accounted for ninety per-cent of party membership, [provided the party with] eighty per-cent of its' annual income [and] sponsored fifty per-cent of it's MPs" (Salamon pg105). The Employment Protection Act of 1975 (and Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act of 1978 encouraged trade union membership and activities as well as legislated so that statutory time off had to be given in order to enable union officials to complete their union duties. The act also facilitated trade union recognition by employers (under section 11 of the EPA 1975) with the instigation of a set union recognition procedure involving ACAS (Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service), and obliged employers to consult and share information with unions regarding organisational changes and matters directly affecting employees. However in an effort to protect all employees, not just union members, the act also provided legal procedures for extending the terms and conditions of the employment contract where major unions were not recognised and could not bargain on behalf of the employees. The legislation from that particular Labour administration also promoted conciliation, arbitration and employees participation (in the bargaining process). The act also tried to regulate incomes with the setting up of 26 regional wages councils to standardise incomes and set recommended minimum wage levels.

In 1980 trade union membership in the following unions was; Transport and General Workers Union, 1887000, the Amalgamated Engineering Union, 1166000 and the General Municipal Boilermakers Union stood at 916000. In 1979 total union membership stood at 13447000 with a union density of 55.4% (Bain & Pierce 1983).
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It can be seen from the above that the Labour administration of 1974-1979 was one of support for trade unions, collective bargaining and collective labour law. Membership of trade unions was, it can now be see, at an all time high.

However, all this was to change once the Conservatives came to power under Margaret Thatcher in 1979. According to Farnham, (1999, p215) "...[the change in State policy] had considerable implications for public policy on employee relations, which shifted from one focused on 'voluntary collective bargaining' in conditions of full employment and strong trade unions (with attempts ...

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