- 17 Dec 2009
United Kingdom: Conservative Party seeks new UK opt-out from EU employment legislation
In November 2009, the opposition Conservative Party announced a new policy towards the EU following the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. Among other things, a Conservative government would seek the reintroduction of a United Kingdom opt-out from EU employment legislation and a ‘complete opt-out’ from the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Reaction from business groups was mixed, while trade unions saw the party’s objectives as ‘undeliverable’.
- 02 Dec 2009
United Kingdom: Strikes at Royal Mail called off as negotiations continue
In October 2009, postal workers at Royal Mail voted to take nationwide industrial action, escalating an ongoing dispute over working conditions and modernisation. Four 24-hour stoppages took place before talks between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers’ Union produced an interim agreement. Under the agreement, no further strikes are to take place during negotiations on a longer-term deal to enable the agreed implementation of further modernisation from early 2010.
- 02 Dec 2009
United Kingdom: Legal challenge to UK retirement age fails
In September 2009, the High Court ruled that the UK’s default retirement age of 65 years is lawful. This follows the European Court of Justice ruling in March that the EU equal treatment framework directive did not preclude such a measure but that the UK’s default retirement age had to be justifiable in terms of a legitimate labour market policy objective. However, the High Court indicated that the default retirement age should be abolished or raised following a review by the government in 2010.
- 20 Nov 2009
United Kingdom: Trade union welcomes General Motors’ decision not to sell Opel
In November 2009, General Motors announced that it would not after all sell Opel and Vauxhall its main European operations, to Magna and Sberbank. The planned sale had been controversial because of perceptions that subsequent restructuring would favour German manufacturing plants and that job cuts would fall disproportionately on plants elsewhere in Europe. The UK trade union Unite welcomed GM’s change of heart, believing that the move would promise a better future for the two Vauxhall plants in the UK.
- 10 Nov 2009
United Kingdom: Employers issue business agenda for next UK government
In September 2009, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) published a ‘business agenda’ aimed at the next UK government, due to be elected by mid 2010. The 12-point agenda sets out the CBI’s vision for the new administration in terms of putting the economy on a path to sustainable growth. For example, the agenda calls for the next government to tackle youth unemployment, improve skills among students and reform public sector pensions.
- 10 Nov 2009
United Kingdom: Government makes concessions to employers on employment law agenda
Policy announcements made during September and October 2009 indicate that the government has adjusted its employment law agenda in response to pressure from employer groups and adverse economic circumstances. This includes delaying UK implementation of the EU directive on temporary agency work. Trade unions have expressed disappointment at the government’s move, while the employers have welcomed it. Meanwhile, the employers have criticised the enhanced paternity leave plan.
- 10 Nov 2009
United Kingdom: TUC calls for urgent revision of EU posted workers directive
The annual conference of the Trades Union Congress, held in September 2009, voted for a resolution that criticised the UK’s application of the EU posted workers directive. The resolution calls for the urgent revision of UK law and practice and the EU directive itself, so that existing collective agreements are not undermined. However, it seems unlikely that the government as well as employer organisations will support such measures.
- 10 Nov 2009
United Kingdom: Trades Union Congress targets homophobia in sport
The Trades Union Congress is looking at ways to tackle the problem of homophobia in the UK sports industry. In a parallel development, the Football Association has started a campaign to address the problem of homophobia in English professional football. Homophobia remains a problem in professional football and sport generally in the UK, although some evidence suggests that concerted action against it could lead to a decline in its incidence.
- 22 Oct 2009
United Kingdom: Factory ‘sit-in’ over loss of green jobs comes to end
On 7 August 2009, a factory sit-in at the wind turbine blade manufacturer Vestas on the Isle of Wight came to an end after 19 days. The sit-in was in protest at Vestas’ plans to close the site and other nearby operations with the loss of 625 jobs. The high-profile campaign was supported by trade unions and environmental groups who called on the government to intervene to save the factory.
- 14 Oct 2009
United Kingdom: Social partners seek action on youth unemployment
In August 2009, the UK government published figures showing that the number of 18–24-year-olds in the UK not in education, employment or training rose steeply in the second quarter of 2009. Both the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry have called on the government to fund extra youth apprenticeships to help tackle the problem, while the employer body has developed a five-point plan to tackle youth unemployment.
- 05 Oct 2009
United Kingdom: Trade unions mobilise against pay and pension cuts
In August 2009, a strike took place at aircraft refuelling company ASIG, and trade union members voted to support industrial action at the information technology company Fujitsu in response to its policies of pay freezes and pension cuts. Meanwhile, statistics revealed that the value of median pay settlements in the UK had dropped to just 1%. These developments pose questions about trade unions’ response to pay and pension cuts in the face of economic recession.
- 05 Oct 2009
United Kingdom: 48-hour limit on junior doctors’ weekly working hours takes effect
From August 2009, as a result of regulations reflecting the requirements of the EU Working Time Directive, trainee doctors are now covered by the statutory 48-hour limit on average weekly working hours. Some doctor organisations have expressed concern that the National Health Service is ill-prepared for the change. They argue that, without adequate preparation, reduced working hours could adversely affect training for junior doctors and patient care.
- 22 Sep 2009
Representativeness of the European social partner organisations: Steel industry – United Kingdom
The aim of this representativeness study is to identify the respective national and supranational actors (i.e. trade unions and employer organisations) in the field of industrial relations in the steel industry in the United Kingdom. In order to determine their relative importance in the sector’s industrial relations, this study will, in particular, focus on their representational quality as well as on their role in collective bargaining.
- 18 Sep 2009
United Kingdom – Greening the European economy: Responses and initiatives by Member States and social partners
This report sets out the actions and initiatives taken by the government and social partners in the UK to mitigate the effects of climate change and encourage the development of a green economy. While a range of efforts are being made by policy makers and social partners, the job creation potential of the green economy could be hindered by a lack of appropriate skills. Commentators have therefore highlighted the need to address potential skills shortages in the medium term.
- 15 Sep 2009
United Kingdom: Flexicurity and industrial relations
Flexicurity is a term rarely heard in UK policy making or industrial relations practice. Government policy focuses on active labour market policies to encourage participation in employment rather than dependence on social security. Unions and employers are primarily involved in delivering improved training policies rather than other aspects of flexicurity. This ‘alternative model’ of flexicurity differs considerably from the original concept. Nonetheless, UK unemployment is comparatively low and perceptions of job security amongst employees are comparatively high.
- 31 Aug 2009
United Kingdom: Government brings forward review of default retirement age
The default retirement age (DRA) in the United Kingdom is 65 years. Various campaign groups have argued its merits and demerits. It allows companies and individuals to plan better for their exit from employment. However, forcing workers to retire seems to contradict the principle of non-discrimination and deprives the economy of older workers’ skills. The government had stated that it would review the DRA in 2011, but it has now brought this review forward to 2010.
- 10 Aug 2009
United Kingdom: Strike hits London Underground
In June 2009, a 48-hour strike disrupted the London Underground, the underground rail system that serves the United Kingdom’s capital city. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers called the strike after pay talks between the trade union and London Underground broke down. The protest was condemned by employer groups, passengers and the UK government. The transport sector is characterised by high rates of industrial action.
- 10 Aug 2009
United Kingdom: British Airways seeks to cut staff costs
Faced with massive financial losses, in July 2009 British Airways sought major cuts in its personnel costs. It has reached a cost-reduction agreement with pilots but negotiations with trade unions representing other staff have so far failed to produce a similar deal. The company has also asked employees to work without pay for a period, take unpaid leave or switch to part-time work.
- 10 Aug 2009
United Kingdom: Recession causing employers to modify employment practices
A new survey of workplace trends was published in June 2009 by the Confederation of British Industry and recruitment consultants Harvey Nash. The survey indicates that a significant number of employers have made or are considering making changes to their policies in the areas of pay, organisation of working time, recruitment, training and relocation, in response to the current economic crisis.
- 05 Aug 2009
United Kingdom: New framework for workplace dispute resolution
The Employment Act 2008 introduced new measures, which came into effect in April 2009, designed to encourage a more practical, less legalistic approach to dispute resolution at the workplace. The move has been broadly welcomed by employer organisations and trade unions, although some unions are concerned about the possible undermining of standards of procedural fairness.
- 05 Aug 2009
United Kingdom: Employers propose ‘alternative to redundancy’ scheme
In July 2009, the main UK employer organisation urged the government to introduce an innovative ‘alternative to redundancy’ scheme. Under this scheme, surplus employees could be placed on long-term leave, which is jointly financed by the employer and the state, and return to work if their employer’s business picks up again. Trade unions were sceptical about the proposed plan.
- 28 Jul 2009
Representativeness of of the European social partner organisations: Tanning and leather sector – United Kingdom
The aim of this representativeness study is to identify the respective national and supranational actors (i.e. trade unions and employer organisations) in the field of industrial relations in the tanning and leather sector in the United Kingdom. In order to determine their relative importance in the sector’s industrial relations, this study will, in particular, focus on their representational quality as well as on their role in collective bargaining.
- 14 Jul 2009
United Kingdom: International trade union initiative to support Bangladeshi textiles workers
In May 2009, Unite, the UK’s largest trade union, signed a joint statement with the US-based union United Steelworkers and the German United Services Union ver.di in support of labour standards in Bangladesh. The joint statement is the result of growing international concern about labour standards in the Bangladeshi textiles sector. It will require concrete action by all of the parties involved if it is to succeed in its aims.
- 13 Jul 2009
United Kingdom: Surveys highlight impact of recession on pay
Research published in May and June 2009 by the pay monitoring body Incomes Data Services and the ‘Keep Britain working’ campaign suggest that over a quarter of pay deals in 2009 have resulted in pay freezes for the employees concerned. This affects a much higher proportion of employees than in 2008. Moreover, the research reveals that more than half of UK workers have experienced a cut in pay or working hours or a loss of benefits since the recession began.
- 13 Jul 2009
United Kingdom: Government sanctions small increase in national minimum wage
In May 2009, the government confirmed that it had accepted the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission (LPC) for national minimum wage increases. The relatively modest increases were welcomed by employer organisations while the Trades Union Congress urged the commission to be more generous next year. The LPC emphasised that the recent smaller increases should not be seen as a policy change and that larger increases will be considered in the future depending on the economic situation.
- 02 Jul 2009
UK: Multinational companies and collective bargaining’
Multinational companies (MNCs) account for a significant proportion of private sector employment, and collective bargaining coverage is above the private sector average. Under the UK’s single-employer bargaining arrangements, MNCs act as pace-setters in negotiations on wages and conditions. Comparisons of cost and performance are widely used by management in local negotiations. Union responses to this internationalisation of the bargaining context are limited and uneven.
- 15 Jun 2009
United Kingdom: Equality Bill targets gender pay gap
In April 2009, the government introduced an Equality Bill which, as well as harmonising existing equality legislation, proposes new measures including mandatory gender pay reporting requirements if employers fail to do this voluntarily. Employer organisations criticised the pay reporting proposal, whereas trade unions expressed disappointment that the government had not taken bolder steps to close the gender pay gap.
- 01 Jun 2009
United Kingdom: New report highlights major skills challenges for the UK
In May 2009, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills published a report highlighting major challenges for the skills and employment system. It warns that the UK is slipping behind major competitors in the skills league. However, moving away from previous policy thinking, the report emphasises the need for measures to improve employer demand for and utilisation of skills, and for skills policy to be integrated with economic development and innovation strategies.
- 21 May 2009
United Kingdom: New employment legislation takes effect
In April 2009, a number of significant legislative reforms were introduced in the UK, some of which were influenced by the new Employment Act 2008. Reforms include the wider coverage of flexible working rights, stronger measures to enforce the national minimum wage including penalties for employers that underpay, new workplace disputes procedures and increased statutory holiday entitlement.
- 21 May 2009
United Kingdom: Major job losses continue, but at lower levels
In March and April 2009, mass job losses continued to be announced in the United Kingdom. Particularly affected were the manufacturing and financial services sectors, including the Royal Bank of Scotland. However, European Restructuring Monitor data appear to suggest that the scale of announced job losses in the UK has declined in recent months. The trade unions, nonetheless, continue to urge the government for a more interventionist economic policy.
- 21 May 2009
United Kingdom: Employers and unions lobby government over budget
Ahead of the budget statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in April 2009, the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress both issued budget submissions that aimed to influence the government’s policies for tackling the current economic recession and growing unemployment. The budget itself elicited mixed reactions from the social partners.
- 11 May 2009
United Kingdom: Gender pay gap in financial services twice the UK average
A report published in April 2009 by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed that there is a significant gender pay gap in the country’s financial services sector and that this gap increases in the case of the highest paid positions. Moreover, the Trades Union Congress has expressed concerns that an ‘impenetrable glass ceiling’ remains in place in this sector.
- 11 May 2009
United Kingdom: Landmark judgment extends scope of public sector agreements
A far-reaching judgment by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in January 2009 potentially extends the reach of public sector collective agreements into the private sector following a transfer of employees. The case involved 23 local government employees, who issued a claim for lost pay after the employer to which they were transferred refused to recognise their trade union for collective bargaining and to follow pay changes that had previously been agreed.
- 28 Apr 2009
UK: Wage flexibility and collective bargaining
- 28 Apr 2009
Representativeness of the European social partner organisations: Hospitals – United Kingdom
The aim of this representativeness study is to identify the respective national and supranational actors (i.e. trade unions and employer organisations) in the field of industrial relations in the hospital sector in the United Kingdom. In order to determine their relative importance in the sector’s industrial relations, this study will, in particular, focus on their representational quality as well as on their role in collective bargaining.
- 01 Apr 2009
Industrial relations in the public sector – United Kingdom
This report presents an overview of industrial relations in the central government and public sector in the United Kingdom.
- 31 Mar 2009
Wage formation: the UK
This contribution examines wage formation in the UK, including overall data relating to pay, the implementation and influence of the National Minimum Wage, and wage formation in the IT sector. Collective bargaining in the UK is decentralised and takes place mostly at company or workplace level, especially in the private sector, albeit to a limited extent. The UK has had a National Minimum Wage since 1999 and this is deemed to be functioning well. It is uprated periodically by the government, following recommendations by the Low Pay Commission. Pay in the IT sector is set at company or workplace level.
- 24 Mar 2009
United Kingdom: Energy sector hit by strikes over use of foreign workers
In late January and early February 2009, contract workers at an oil refinery owned by the petroleum group Total took strike action in protest at the employment of Italian and Portuguese workers on a construction project. Sympathy strikes took place at power plants around the United Kingdom. Although subsequently settled, the dispute raises sensitive issues concerning the use of foreign labour and the application of European Union law in the UK.
- 24 Mar 2009
United Kingdom: Dramatic rise in number of job losses
Major job losses continued in the UK during January and February 2009. Most notably, mass redundancies were announced at the steel producer Corus, as well as Barclays Bank and Bank of America. New statistics also revealed that the rate of unemployment is sharply rising, and experts expect that unemployment will top three million in 2009. These developments could also push UK economic and social regulation in a more interventionist direction.
- 24 Mar 2009
United Kingdom: Government unveils unemployment package
At an ‘employment summit’ on 12 January 2009, the UK government announced a package of measures aiming to help 500,000 people into work or training. The plans include subsidies for employers that recruit long-term unemployed people and enhanced training opportunities for those who are unemployed. Social partners welcomed the initiative but warned that more needs to be done to prevent people from losing their jobs and from becoming long-term unemployed.
- 09 Mar 2009
UK: The impact of the information and consultation directive on industrial relations
This comparative report provides a general overview of the steps taken by the UK to implement the 2002 Directive on informing and consulting employees.
- 13 Feb 2009
United Kingdom: Employment discrimination cases bolster gay rights
Two court rulings in December 2008 have important implications for the application of legislative provisions in the United Kingdom concerning discrimination in employment that are based on EU directives. One case concerned a claim of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief. The other involved the regulations preventing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The outcomes of both cases have been seen as strengthening gay rights in the UK.
- 12 Feb 2009
UK: Collective bargaining and continuous vocational training
CVT has increasingly become a focus of government policy and intervention since the election of a Labour government in 1997. In response to a skills shortages, major reviews of skills and training have taken place over recent years and increases in funding secured. Current policy is targeted at improving the skills of low-skilled workers and younger workers. Unusually, this is an area where there is concerted effort to encourage the social partners to work together with government to facilitate policy making. However, collective bargaining over CVT is somewhat patchy.
- 04 Feb 2009
United Kingdom: Government announces legislative plans for 2009
In December 2008, the UK government announced its legislative agenda for the new parliamentary session in 2009. This included several items of employment-related legislation, among them a major Equality Bill, legislation reforming education, training and apprenticeships, and a bill modifying the welfare system. The government also confirmed that it would extend parents’ rights to flexible working. The social partners gave the plans a mixed reaction.
- 04 Feb 2009
United Kingdom: Mixed reaction to European Parliament rejection of working time opt-out
In December 2008, the European Parliament voted to end the scope for workers to opt out of the EU working time directive’s 48-hour limit on average weekly working time. UK trade unions welcomed the move; however, it was strongly criticised by employer organisations and government ministers. The trade unions argued that the next stage was to tackle low pay and productivity, while employers and the government still aim to protect ‘freedom of choice’.
- 27 Jan 2009
United Kingdom: Retail sector hit by major redundancies
Several large-scale cases of job loss have recently hit the UK commerce sector. Among the companies affected is the Woolworths retail chain, whose closure led to 27,000 immediate job losses in the UK. A number of other major retailers have also been affected. Trade unions have reacted angrily to the redundancies and called for greater state intervention to support the economy.
- 14 Jan 2009
United Kingdom: Employment Bill completes its passage through parliament
In November 2008, the Employment Bill completed its final legislative stages to become the Employment Act 2008. The new legislation repeals existing statutory dispute resolution provisions, replacing them with measures to encourage the early and informal resolution of employment disputes. It also strengthens the enforcement framework for the national minimum wage and amends the law on trade union membership to comply with a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.
- 14 Jan 2009
United Kingdom: Widening of gender pay gap triggers calls for action
Official statistics published in November 2008 indicate that the difference between women’s and men’s median hourly pay has risen to 12.8%, compared with 12.5% in 2007. The unexpected widening of the UK’s gender pay gap has prompted calls for further action to tackle wage inequality – an issue on which the government is planning new legislation in 2009.
- 13 Jan 2009
United Kingdom: Government to introduce ‘fit notes’ to reduce cost of workers’ ill-health
The UK government announced in November 2008 that it will be introducing ‘fit notes’ to replace the practice of doctors issuing workers with health problems with sick notes from work. These fit notes will specify what work the workers are able to do. The measure seeks to cut the cost to the economy of absence in the workplace due to sickness and has been broadly welcomed.
- 05 Jan 2009
United Kingdom: Unemployment hits young and older workers the hardest
An analysis of UK unemployment figures released in November 2008, undertaken by the Trades Union Congress, shows that unemployment among young workers and older workers is rising sharply. Amid fears among the social partners that the labour market will continue to deteriorate in the current difficult economic climate, the UK government is focusing on promoting active labour market measures.