The paper "Relationship between Government and Public Sector Unions" is an outstanding example of business coursework. The changing context of local government employment relations Trade unions and the process of collective bargaining constitute central elements of the system of employment regulation within the British local government. Union recognition for bargaining purposes, for example, is universal and membership density remains high: in 2005 the ‘ public administration’ category of employment – of which local government employment contributes a significant proportion of the total – recorded an average density of 57.1 per cent, the highest density for all major employment categories in the UK (Grainger, 2006: 21).
In addition, unions’ institutional centrality is further demonstrated by the fact that local level management-union relationships take place within a framework of national bargaining arrangements incorporating not only administrative, professional, technical and clerical (APT& C) staff, but also their manual counterparts, police officers and staff, school teachers, and fire service personnel. Under these frameworks, negotiations take place between the Employers’ Organization for Local Government, the umbrella body representing local government employers, and the relevant recognized unions. The most important of these, in terms of the number of workers covered, is the National Joint Council (NJC) for local government services, which came into being in 1997 because of the merger of the two previously separate NJCs for manual and APT& C staff.
This merged NJC now constitutes the largest NJC of any kind in the UK (Local Government Pay Commission, 2003). On the union side, contributions come from those unions most representative of the sector; UNISON, which holds 31 places on the NJC, followed by the GMB (16) and the Transport and General Workers Union (11). Inevitably, given the extent to which local government services are centrally funded, government policies and related philosophies have always formed an important backcloth to (and influence on) employer-union relations, at both the local and national levels (Terry, 2000).
One important such influence has been the way in which the post- 1945 period has seen marked shifts in governmental perspectives regarding the desired nature of these relationships. In essence, these paradigmatic shifts have arguably entailed a move from an acceptance of a ‘ model employer’ perspective– formulated around the professional autonomy of the local government officer, institutionalized through collective bargaining, to a ‘ market state’ orientation – based on the imposition of external competition, outsourcing and micro-management solutions to issues of performance; and finally to the adoption of what may be termed a hybridized regime, whereby micro-management and market-based solutions continue to be pursued but are now being tempered by protections to the baseline terms and conditions determined at the governmental level. The model employer era The basis of local government employment relations practice from the end of the Second World War up to the 1970s has commonly been seen as having been centred on the notion of the ‘ model employer’ .
Whilst this notion has been legitimately challenged as overly simplistic (Thornley, 1995; Thornley et al. , 2000), as a heuristic it nevertheless remains useful as a comparator of the changing ethos of what constitutes ‘ good’ employment practice in the sector. The foundations of this approach can be traced to the Whitley structures for employer union interaction brought into local government in 1940 (Thomson and Beaumont, 1978) that were based on the principles of consultation (rather than bargaining), consensus and of national, rather than local level exchange; structures which acted to prompt the trade unions involved in local government to place an emphasis on centralized decision-making arrangements and the servicing of members by full-time officials.
Over time, national-level management-union relationships came to encompass collective bargaining, as well as joint consultation, though the assumptions of consensus that underpinned this system became increasingly anachronistic as bargaining became more confrontational in the 1970s against the background of local government budgetary constraints (Fairbrother, 1996). This rise in adversarial, in turn, contributed to a breakup of the party political ‘ post-war consensus’ on employment in public services occurred, most notably through the 1979 ‘ winter of discontent’ , which was disproportionately located within local government.
This break up came to fruition with the coming into power of a Conservative government in 1979 and the imposition of a ‘ market state’ approach to public sector employment relations.