Collective Bargaining in the Workplace

Britain has one of the most developed systems of collective
bargaining in the world, especially amongst manual workers. Its
sophistication is one of the main reasons why British workers traditionally
pressed less for the statutory provision of basic rights in the work place
than their Continental colleagues. Most trade unionists prefer to put a
grievance ‘through procedure\' rather than go to an industrial tribunal.
Dubin has described collective bargaining as ‘the great social
invention that has institutionalised industrial conflict\' and by the
Donovan Commission as ‘right which is or should be the prerogative of every
worker in a democratic society\'. It could be also defined as a method of
determining terms and conditions of employment through the process of
negotiation and agreement between representatives of management and
Collective bargaining does not require a comprehensive collective
agreement for a stated period of time. It requires only the recognition of
the bargaining agency and the principle of action that mutual problems be
jointly considered and jointly decided. The desire of each party to be
assured about the other\'s future conduct - that is, the desire for
stability and security - makes the comprehensive collective agreement for a
term the normal concomitant of collective bargaining. It requires each
party to think into the future, to anticipate situations and to determine
solutions before situations arise. It requires the making of policy - which,
when agreed upon, becomes the collective agreement.
The heart of the collective agreement - indeed, of collective
bargaining - is the process for continuous joint consideration and
adjustment of plant problems. And it is this feature which indicates the
difference between the collective labour agreement and commercial contracts
generally. Commercial contracts are concerned primarily with ‘end results\';
collective agreements, with continuous process. Workers organised into
trade unions and bargaining with employers provides a measure of
countervailing power to the powers of management, and that is fundamental
to industrial relations. The collective bargaining process provides a
formal channel through which the differing interests of management and
employees may be resolved on a collective basis. The collective agreement
is not made between parties who seek each other out for the purpose of
entering into a business transaction and who can shop around among
competitors for the most favourable connection. It is made between parties
who find themselves already in a joint enterprise and who have little or
no choice in selecting each other for the relationship. The union does not
choose the employer and the employer does not choose the union. Both are
dependent on the same enterprise and neither can pull out without
destroying it. Even when a dispute between them results in suspension of
operations, they must strive so to adjust the dispute as to resume their
Whilst undoubtedly the process of collective bargaining has become
more formalised at the organisation level, many arrangements (agreements)
are still made between managers and shop stewards in respect of operational
situations at the departmental or workgroup level.
Collective bargaining through collective agreements places social
constraints upon managerial discretion. One type of constraint consists of
the labour standards or norms established by collective agreements relating
to pay and hours which are translated into the terms and conditions of
employment for employees represented by trade unions. Such standards limit
managerial discretion in setting wage, hours and other substantive terms of
employment. At the same time these standards also offer the advantage to
management of harmonising labour costs throughout the industry.
The second constraint is related to the bargaining over the rules,
which govern the continuing relationship between unions and employers.
These rules are often recorded in procedure agreements or the procedural
clauses of collective agreements: negotiating procedures, bargaining rights
and management rights clauses, shop stewards\' facilities, redundancy,
disciplinary and grievance procedures. This is the so-called ‘contractual
function\' of collective agreements.
Also collective agreements can provide a joint policy for
redundancies or the introduction of new technology providing consultation
rights for trade union representatives as well as rights governing
seniority, job guarantees and measures to avoid redundancies.
Collective rather than individual bargaining with an employer is
necessary for effective voice at the work place for two reasons. First,
many important aspects of an industrial setting are ‘public goods\', which
affect the well being of every employee. As a result the incentive for any
single person to express his preferences, and invest time and money to
change conditions is reduced. Safety conditions, lighting, heating, the
firm\'s policies on dismissal, work-sharing, promotion, its formal grievance
procedure and pension plan - all obviously affect the entire work force in
the same way that defence, sanitation, and fire protection affect all
citizens of a town. ‘Public goods\' at