Industrial Relations in Building Societies

Published date01 January 1984
Date01 January 1984
AuthorJohn Purcell
Subject MatterHR & organizational behaviour
Relations in
by John Purcell
Lecturer in Management Studies
(industrial relations) Oxford University,
and Fellow of the Oxford Centre for
Management Studies
Industrial relations in the finance sector has always exhibited
rather special features; a virtually exclusive white collar work
force dispersed in numerous branch offices; relatively high
unionisation with membership split between TUC-affiliated
unions and in-house staff associations; higher than average
pay settlements in recent years and early experience of com-
puterisation. Building societies share many of these features,
but three aspects make industrial relations particularly
fascinating in this sector. Unionisation has only become ex-
tensive in the top 30 societies in the last five years and, in
many respects, has yet to mature. More importantly, there
are no TUC-affiliated unions represented in the largest
societies. Thus this is an industry uniquely dominated by
staff associations, many of which have only recently been
formed and awarded Certificates of Independence. Thirdly,
there are good grounds for predicting that market and
growth conditions in the next decade will be markedly
ferent from the conditions of rapid growth experienced in
the 1970s when the staff association movement began.
The early growth of staff associations and the battles with
TUC unions has been charted by Winterton and Winter-
ton(1) and
more recent analysis of membership trends and
association effectiveness has been undertaken by Swabe
and Price(2). The object of this article is to recap briefly on
this development, describe the key features of industrial rela-
tions and consider the future prospects of staff associations
in the radically different circumstances of the 1980s.
Staff Association Effectiveness?
Table 1 shows the growth in the number of staff associa-
tions in the period 1977-82 as recorded by the Certifica-
tion Officer. Table II lists the top 30 Societies in 1981 and
shows the unionisation position in 1983 in terms of Cer-
tificates of Independence and membership of the Federa-
tion of Building Society Staff Associations (FBSSA). The rate
of growth in both is remarkable and recent, with eight staff
associations (one third of the total among the top 30
societies) being formed in 1980-82. Part reason for this was
the undoubted success of the older staff associations in the
mid to later 1970s. These survived many attempts by TUC-
affiliated unions such as APEX, ASTMS and BIFU to enter
the field by merger or direct competition. At the same time,
they remained attractive to staff who joined in large
numbers. (Density rates are usually in the 70-80 per cent
Table I. The Growth of Staff Associations
in Building Societies 1977-82
1977 10
1978 4
1979 7
1980 6
1981 9
1982 8
8 12
9 16
10 16
12 21
16 24
*By 1982 two associations had been refused Certificates of
Independence (the Derbyshire and Staffordshire Building
Societies Staff Associations).
Source: Annual Reports of the Certification Officer 1977-82.
One major factor in explaining this growth is a change in
the employers' perspective from opposition to encourage-
ment, aided by advice from a rather secretive employers'
association, the Building Societies Association (BSA). In-
itially, most societies opposed any form of unionisation, but,
for obvious reasons, preferred staff associations to "outside"
unions if they were forced to make a choice. Even so, the
feeling in the early to mid 1970s appeared to be that staff
associations were a necessary evil which challenged the
paternalist autocracy of many building societies. The social
and political environment was becoming more complex.
Successive labour legislation and incomes policies required
a professional management response which many societies
were incapable of providing, especially since recruitment
to management posts was usually restricted to existing
Unionisation in one building society began when manage-
12 ER 6,1 · 1984

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