Effective voice is much more than just having a channel of communication available within organisations - though this is important. Effective voice requires a safe environment where dialogue and challenge are dealt with constructively and where employee views are sought out, listened to and can make a difference.
Dialogue is key to understanding and defining fair arrangements between employers and employees and therefore opportunities for effective voice are central to fair work. Effective voice underpins the other dimensions of fair work, and real dialogue between organisational stakeholders can help deliver on opportunity, security fulfilment and respect.
The ability to speak, individually or collectively, and to be listened to, is closely linked to the development of respectful and reciprocal workplace relationships. Acknowledging the legitimacy of employee voice reflects the interests of employees, individually and collectively, in everything that an organisation does. It is clear from international evidence that employees and workers want a voice, not only to resolve problems and conflicts (which is important) but also to engage and participate constructively in organisations. Employee voice can improve employee's work experience as well as improving organisational performance. Opportunities for voice in organisations - through trade unions or other forms - reflect employees' legitimate expectations to speak, be heard and contribute to debates and decision-making. This benefits employees and employers.
For individuals, the opportunity to have an effective voice reinforces their rights as 'industrial' citizens. Voice channels improve information sharing, encourage cross learning, resolve conflict and reinforce consensus. Effective voice is widely considered as important in engaging employees. It is strongly associated with employee commitment. Effective voice is also central to agreement making and to ensuring that agreements are adhered to. Effective voice through trade unions is associated with a range of individual benefits such as agreed working time and holiday arrangements, training provision, training duration, improved health and safety outcomes and access to flexible working.
Effective voice does not only benefit employees. It also benefits organisations. Effective voice encourages employees to engage with the organisation and put forward views and ideas in ways that can stimulate change and improvement. Dialogue can improve the quality of information, which in turn can improve the quality of decision making. Genuine and effective voice mechanisms can deliver commitment to decisions that are made - even from those who disagree - and contribute to a good work climate. There are many examples in Scotland and elsewhere of how collective voice through trade unions working with employers has addressed a wide range of organisational challenges and contributed to organisational improvements.
The UK has long been committed to voluntary voice arrangements rather than legislative approaches, although European developments have expanded the range of legislative provisions around employee voice. In many countries, employee voice is delivered through trade unions at workplace level. Beyond the workplace, trade unions are an important channel of employee voice through social dialogue and social partnership that creates stable and constructive industrial relations. Effective employee voice and representation can support wider social priorities in terms of equality of opportunity, pay equality, learning and skills acquisition and occupational health and safety.
Effective voice as a dimension of fair work can include approaches to trade union recognition and collective bargaining; direct and indirect involvement and participation; communication and consultation arrangements and procedures that give scope to individuals and groups to air their views, be listened to and influence outcomes.