30 November 2023
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Learning from Global Perspectives: Alternative Models for UK's Industrial Relations

To The Point
(4 min read)

Angela Rayner's promises to the TUC have sparked comparisons between the UK's trade union model and those of other countries, such as the Nordic countries and New Zealand. The Nordic countries have high union density and rely on collective agreements, while New Zealand's Fair Pay Agreements Act establishes a bargaining framework. These frameworks prioritise collective bargaining and provide mechanisms for employee representation and negotiation. Comparing these models to the UK's trade union regime highlights potential alternative approaches to industrial relations and collective bargaining.

Angela Rayner, the shadow Deputy Prime Minister of the UK's Labour Party, recently outlined her party's promises to trade unions in a 7-point plan. One of the most significant changes proposed by Labour is the gradual return of collective bargaining through 'Fair Pay Agreements'. Under this system, new bodies would negotiate minimum terms and conditions that would be binding on all employees in a sector. This could include pay, pensions, working time, holidays, health and safety, and training.

This proposal is in stark contrast to the current framework and approach towards unions by the Conservative party. The current legal position requires a majority of union members to support industrial action in an organised ballot, with strict legal thresholds concerning voting turnout and majority support. In important public services such as health, schools, fire, transport, and border security, ballots must meet a 50% turnout threshold and be supported by at least 40% of all members who are entitled to vote for action to be lawful.

Over the last year in the UK, strikes have taken place (or been threatened) across the rail industry, at airports, within the Post Office, and by criminal law barristers, various NHS and other public sector workers and teaching unions.

According to ONS data, 829,000 working days were lost to industrial action in December 2022

Furthermore, the Government has sought to mitigate the effect of strikes on certain public services through the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023. This will allow the Government to set minimum service levels. Employers will be able to provide a 'work notice' to a trade union concerning any industrial action affecting a service subject to minimum service regulations. If a trade union fails to ensure that all members requested to work by a valid work notice comply, they would lose their protection from liability for inducing employees to take part in the industrial action.

Comparison with other countries
Implications for the UK

Next Steps

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To the Point 

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