The terms ‘labour relations’, ‘employee relations’ and ‘industrial relations’ refer
to the relationship between employers and employees. Employers have
historically been in a much stronger position – the ‘master and servant’
relationship, for example – which led to the growth of organised labour.
Employers have realised the value of formal organisation and have responded by
establishing their own associations.
A trade union is an organisation of workers which has been established to
represent their interests.
UK legislation up to 1980 concentrated on protecting unions; since 1980 the
emphasis has shifted to protecting the individual union member. Trade unions
and their members have rights under several main items of legislation:
The Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 defines a union and a trade
The Employment Acts 1980, 1982, 1988 and 1990
- require secret ballots to be held to get approval to take strike action,
and for elections to union posts;
- allow a member to prevent the union from strike action if no ballot has
- protect members from disciplinary action if they refuse to take part in a
- make ‘closed shops’ and all forms of secondary action illegal;
- allow damages to be awarded against union members who are not involved
in a dispute but who take secondary action.
The Trade Union Act 1984 make a union liable for damages if it has not carried
out a secret ballot to get approval from its members for strike action.
The Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1992 makes it unlawful for
employers to collect union dues without the written consent of workers.
A trade union seeks to improve the working life of its members.
To do this it:
Advises, represents and protects members:
- it advises on procedures following industrial accidents, represents
employees at industrial tribunals, and gives general legal advice
- it ensures that members receive sick pay and other benefits to which
they are entitled
- it helps protect against redundancy, unfair dismissal, disciplinary action,
Negotiates with employers for
- improved pay and working conditions
- improved pension and retirement arrangements
- greater job satisfaction and better job security
Seeks to influence others
- as a pressure group influencing employers and governments on legislation
and other matters
- - regarding improved social objectives, such as full employment and
better social security
Membership of a trade union brings a number of benefits to its members
Improved Protection Representation
Working Against With
Conditions exploitation employers
UNION Legal and
Insurance MEMBERSHIP advice
Improvements Training and
In pay Education services
Many employers recognise the benefits that unions bring, and gain themselves
from only having to negotiate with a single body. Some industries had union
membership agreements requiring all employees to join a union – a ‘closed shop’
agreement – but the 1988 Employment Act made it unlawful to dismiss an
employee who refuses to join a union. (Employers are now free to also recruit
workers who are not union members.)