Management scholars often argue that ‘the employment relationship involves an inbuilt structured antagonism meaning that it is characterised by the potential for conflict as well as for cooperation’ (Storey, 2007:82). In practice, however, many employers and managers implicitly or explicitly disagree and prefer to adhere to a unitarist frame of reference in the development of their employment and HR policies. Assuming this is the case, what challenges and opportunities do you think the adoption of such a unitarist approach to people management may entail for employers?
Alongside such trends have been developments in the management of work which are analysed in detail in this book. They include a decline in traditional ways in which people represent their views to their employers (termed ‘indirect’ or ‘representational’ participation), which in Britain means through a trade union. Associated with a decline of unions has been a reduction in the percentage of employees who are covered by collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is a key focus in IR (the term having been coined by two of the UK founders of the subject, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, at the end of the nineteenth century). It means the negotiation of pay and other conditions of employment between an employer (or a group of employers) and a trade union acting for its members (see Chapter 8). There has also been a growth in ‘direct’ participation, that is involvement not through a representative structure but through work-based activity; examples are problem-solving groups and teamworking (see Chapters 7 and 13). The legal framework has also changed rapidly as discussed in Chapters 5 and 6. Some of these developments reflect developments within Britain itself, some stem from Europe, some from the specific influence of multinational companies, and some from broader trends in the world economy. These developments in the management of work are highly important in themselves, in shaping how much autonomy workers have in their work and their ability to shape key decisions that affect them. But what goes on within IR can have substantial effects on wider aspects of society. To take but one example, Chapter 8 shows that the decline of unions and collective bargaining explains some of the rise in wage inequality;