August 2002

IZA DP No. 562: Changes in Collective Bargaining in the U.K.

published in: John T. Addison and Claus Schnabel (eds.), International Handbook of Trade Unions, Cheltenham and Northampton, 2003, 415-460

Perhaps no other country in recent years has witnessed greater change in its collective bargaining framework than the UK. This paper describes the dramatic developments and their consequences. Like Gaul, it is in three parts. The first part charts the six major pieces of legislation – conventionally described as ‘anti-union’ – that were enacted by successive Conservative administrations between 1980 and 1993, and links them to the subsequent decline in unionism and to improvements in firm performance and that of the macro economy. The second part examines the accession of ‘New Labour’ and reviews its domestic reform agenda, today largely in place. That agenda comprises two general pieces of employment and employment relations law plus a new national minimum wage. At first (and second) blush these changes do not return Britain to the mid-1970s even if they do imply an increase in union membership and rising costs for business. For evidence of more profound change one has to turn to the third part of our story: the social policy agenda of the European Union. Almost immediately upon taking office, New Labour signed up to the social chapter. This means that a slew of new legislation seeking to regulate the employment relation (mostly decided by qualified majority) is now in immediate prospect. Europe is therefore set to impact the theory and practice of British industrial relations. We provide a brief review of recent and prospective legislation.