COMPANY BARGAINING: PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS*

AuthorKevin Hawkins
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8543.1971.tb00855.x
Publication Date01 Jul 1971
COMPANY BARGAINING: PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS*
KEVIN
HAWKINS?
INTRODUCTION
THE
contemporary debate on the reform of industrial relations frequently
confuses two related but nonetheless distinct problems. First, there is
a
clear and present need to ensure that managers will initiate and the trade
unions respond favourably towards the reform of collective agreements.
Second, there is an equally urgent need to devise
a
system of sanctions
which will effectively discourage the abuse of industrial bargaining power.
The strategy advanced in the Donovan Report assumes that the prob-
lem of industrial ‘misbehaviour’ (i.e. unofficial strikes, restrictive practices
and
so
on) is primarily
a
consequence of society’s failure to ensure that
the principles and institutions of collective bargaining are appropriate to
present-day conditions of full employment and technological change. One
might reasonably infer from this that if the structural and institutional
reform of collective bargaining proceeds apace then the need for legally-
enforceable behavioural restraints will disappear. Any government,
however, which was persuaded to adopt this strategy in its entirety would
undoubtedly be committing an act of faith in so far
as
tangible results
would only become apparent after
a
considerable lapse of time, if at all.
The preoccupation of both the present Government and its predecessor
with inflation, strikes and economic growth has not surprisingly made
them reluctant to ‘trust entirely to the expected effects of better procedure
agreements’.l Whether or not the various supplementary measures pro-
posed in the White Paper
In
Place
of
Strge
and in the present Government’s
Industrial Relations Bill are both ‘workable and just’ is not the concern
of
this article. It is at this point sufficient to note that the emphasis of the
Industrial Relations Bill on changes in the law might suggest that the
Government is erroneously dirccting its attention exclusively towards the
behavioural symptoms of the underlying institutional deficiencies of the
industrial relations system. Thus it could be argued that while the ob-
jective
o€
the Donovan stratcgy was to increase the economic efficiency of
collective bargaining through institutional reform, the implied aim of the
Conservative strategy is the achievement of
a
greater degree
of
industrial
discipline by the threat and use of legal sanctions,
*
The author would like
to
thank Dr
W.
E.
J.
McCarthy, Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford,
and
Mr
L.
Collinson, formerly of Plessey Telecommunications Ltd.,
for
having read and com-
mented on various early drafts of this paper.
t
Lecturer in Industrial Relations, University of Bradford, Management Centre.
I
Royal
Commission
on
Trade
Unions and
Emjloyers’
Associations
Report,
Cmnd 3623,
H.M.S.O.,
London, June 1968.
Addendum
by
Lord Donovan,
p.
279,
para.
5.
198
COMPANY BARGAINING
:
PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS
199
While
it
would be difficult to maintain that these strategies are in any
sense complementary, they are by no means mutually exclusive. Very few
of
the measures proposed in the Industrial Relations Bill are likely to have
much effect on the structural problems of collective bargaining with which
the Royal Commission was
so
preoccupied-nor, indeed,
is
it intended
that they should. One may recall that the position taken by the authors
of
Fair
Deal
at
Work
was essentially non-interventionist
;
they merely said
that ‘the best balance between different levels of bargaining’ would
‘inevitably vary from industry to industry and
.
.
.
the parties must be left
to negotiate such vital matters between themselves’.2 Neither the view
expressed in the Consultative Document that ‘disputes about bargaining
rights and bargaining structure can be most satisfactorily resolved by the
parties themselvesy3 nor the provisions
of
the Bill represent much change
in this respect. It is, of course, perfectly clear that the Government intends
that the C.I.R. should continue to perform its investigatory role in
particularly difficult cases involving trade union recognition and should in
addition have the power to specify appropriate bargaining units and
nominate
a
bargaining agent for each unit. But
it
is difficult to see how the
activities
of
the C.I.R. will have any effect on the underlying structural
development
of
collective bargaining, Since most recognition disputes
originate at plant and company level it seems unlikely that the resolution
of these disputes by the C.I.R. will result in anything other than the
formalization and strengthening
of
collective bargaining at this level.
Thus it would appear that the Industrial Relations Bill makes more or
less the same assumptions about the nature and development of bargaining
structures
as
did the Royal Commission. Industry-wide agreements will
almost certainly continue to become less and less relevant to the needs of
individual establishments. It is therefore difficult to imagine that em-
ployers’ associations and trade unions will consider these agreements
important enough to be worth making enforceable at law. But even if thc
new legislation has the effect
of
making a large number of
cornjay
agree-
ments legally binding this would still not be incompatible with the
Donovan strategy. Most members of the Royal Commission had no
objection in principle to the negotiation of legally-enforceable collective
agreements and recommended the repeal of section
4
of the Trade Union
Act
of
1871 to encourage the undertaking
of
contractual obligations. The
point is that whether collective agreements are successfully enforced or
not, the attention
of
managers, trade unionists and governments will
continue to be drawn increasingly towards the character and consequences
of collective bargaining at plant and company level. The reasons why this
should be
so
were clearly spelled out by the Royal Commission and any
a
Fair Deal at
Work,
C.P.C.,
April
1968,
p.
59
Department
of
Employment and Productivity,
Industrial Relations Bill: Consultative Document,
October
1970,
p.
18,
para.
130

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