Fair Work Framework 2016
Why is effective voice at work important?
For individuals, the opportunity to have an effective voice is crucially important. Having a say at work is consistent with the broader suite of rights available to citizens in
democratic societies. Voice and dialogue can help to resolve conflict and address unjust, unfair or unequal treatment. It can also identify opportunity and reinforce consensus.
Effective voice can benefit employers as well as workers. Where voice channels exist and voice is welcomed, workers are more likely to engage with their employer and offer insights and ideas that can stimulate change and improvement. Dialogue can improve the quality of available information, information sharing and cross learning which in turn can improve the quality of decision
making. Genuine voice mechanisms can deliver wider consensus and commitment to decisions - even from those who disagree - and can contribute to an open and constructive work climate. Jointly agreed decisions are easier to implement and more likely to be adhered to.
Effective worker voice and representation can also support wider social priorities in terms of equality of opportunity, pay equality, learning and skills acquisition and occupational health and safety.
Voice can be exercised through formal channels of representation and also through day-to-day work practices where workers are invited to communicate and make an active contribution to decision making17. The UK has long been committed to voluntary voice arrangements rather than legislative requirements on employers to provide voice mechanisms. This differs
from many other European countries where social partnership arrangements and collective bargaining have a statutory basis that shapes voice at workplace level (for example, works councils in Germany or co-operation committees in Denmark) and national level (through social partnership arrangements involving government, employers' representative organisations and trade unions or union confederations). Where voice is embedded in social institutions, this can create stable and constructive employment relations while supporting business success. In the absence of such embedded institutions, however, employers and unions can and do create effective voice arrangements at organisation and industry level, such as partnership arrangements in NHS Scotland and in some large private employers.
Evidence on effective voice at work
International research clearly establishes that workers want some form of 'voice' at work to help them deal with problems and also to engage co-operatively with management to improve their working lives and firm performance18.
Trade unions are the primary channel of collective worker voice in Scotland and the UK, representing more than six million members in Britain and many more workers protected by collective agreements with employers. In Scotland, unions are present in almost half of workplaces and collective agreements cover the terms and conditions of one-third of workers. Where pay is determined by a collective agreement, this applies to all workers (not just union members) thereby spreading the benefits of collective agreements more widely.
Research suggests that workers rate collective voice exercised through a trade union most highly in relation to concerns over pay, discipline and grievance19. The trade union wage premium (the percentage difference in average gross hourly earnings of union members compared with non-members) is 21.6% in the public sector and 8.1% in the private sector, although the size of the premium is influenced by other differences in the characteristics of unionised and non-unionised workers.
Beyond pay, strong trade unions can increase job security and equality20 and have helped deliver wide ranging individual and collective benefits including the payment of the Living Wage, working time regulation, pensions' provision, paid holiday leave, enhanced training provision and duration, improved health and safety outcomes and access to flexible working. Many of the rights that workers now enjoy, such as maternity, paternity and wider equality rights, reflect the power of effective voice in the workplace and in the political sphere.
In the absence of unions, there are few alternative channels of collective representation in UK workplaces. In 2011, only 7% of workplaces had a stand-alone non-union representative and only 8% of workplaces had a joint consultative committee. More than a third of workplaces and a fifth of all workers have no access at all to collective voice channels at work21.
Where non-union collective voice mechanisms exist, there is little evidence that workers have access to equivalent independent expertise and support of the type provided by union officers or well-trained union workplace, health and safety, learning and equality representatives. Moreover, recent UK research highlights workers' concerns over loss of job status, pay reductions,
unfair treatment and a loss of say over their jobs, leading to increased job stress and lower levels of job related wellbeing22. Without an effective collective voice, workers are unlikely to be able to challenge or influence these developments.
National surveys suggest that voice at task level, followed by participation in decision making, impact most on job satisfaction and psychological wellbeing23. However, in the UK formal opportunities for workers to participate in organisational decisions have remained static since 2006 and fewer workers report having the opportunity to make a contribution in 2011 than in 2001 (27% compared with 36%)24.
Effective voice through unions can deliver not just greater equity but also greater efficiency, thus contributing to business success25. There is considerable evidence from the UK and elsewhere that more extensive worker voice can reduce absenteeism and turnover and enhance output and organisational commitment26. There are also many examples of where unions work closely with employers to deliver business and workplace improvements and address organisational challenges. Constructive relationships between employers, workers and unions can impact positively on company, economic and social outcomes. Poor relationships between employers and unions can contribute to failing companies, under-valued workers and unnecessarily high levels of conflict27.
Most managers (80%) report that they wish to hear workers' views28. Yet even where voice mechanisms exist, voice may not be influential, and research suggests that management consultation may be becoming shallower in the UK. Fewer managers in 2011 (39%) than in 2004 (45%) report consulting to get feedback on options, while more managers in 2011 (28%) than in 2004 (9%) report consulting only on a preferred management option. Similarly, the number of higher level joint consultative committees (where the most significant decisions are made) are in decline, falling 5% to 20% between 2004 and 2011.29
There has been a significant rise in individual and direct voice practices in UK workplaces, including written two-way communication (reported in 69% of workplaces); face to face meetings (58%) and meetings between senior managers and workers involving substantial question time (46%). These direct voice practices on their own are present in 48% of workplaces and cover 28% of employment30.
Individual voice is not, however, a substitute for collective voice, especially for workers with little labour market power. Research highlights that individual voice alongside well-organised collective voice produces the best outcomes for workers and for firms in terms of employee commitment31, yet arrangements for both types of voice exist in only 10% of workplaces and are available to only 30% of workers in the UK32.
What people told us
Unions and their members welcomed the Fair Work Agenda in Scotland and believe that unions' experience in voice and in constructive dialogue will help drive fair work in Scotland. Where unions are present, representation at an individual and collective level helps to improve terms and conditions in ways that are consistent with the Fair Work Framework, solve problems, reduce conflict and manage change. Good examples were offered of how partnership working between employers and unions in the NHS has generated significant mutual gains, while a well-run collective bargaining agreement at Lothian Buses has helped to deliver a profitable publicly-run transport service. Serious concerns were raised over the UK Government's Trade Union Bill as an attack
on effective voice that would undermine existing constructive relationships and the movement for fair work. Beyond the workplace, unions were seen are an important channel of worker voice through social dialogue that creates stable and constructive industrial relations and supports wider social and civic priorities.
Organisations representing particularly disadvantaged groups argued that workers had little voice within the workplace in non-union workplaces and that this led to poorer and more unfair treatment.
Workers reported that they were only willing to speak out where their workplace culture welcomes, supports and acts on voice. In addition, voice and support for voice was seen as something that can be developed and encouraged through training and development and reinforced as an element of performance for managers and other workers.
How to deliver effective voice at work
- Delivering fair work in changing and challenging circumstances requires effective worker voice. Adopt behaviours, practices and a culture that supports effective voice and embed these at all levels - this requires openness, transparency, dialogue and tolerance of different viewpoints. Effective voice at work requires that workers are willing and able - collectively and individually - to articulate their interests, have a place or space in which to do so, that communication is welcomed and listened to - even when this uncovers different opinions and
preferences, that it is acted on and is capable of making a difference. This involves not just structures of communication but a supportive climate - underpinned by training and developing managers and worker/union representatives in communication and influencing skills - and by signalling the importance of worker voice through leadership at all levels. Effective voice enables the constructive dialogue that can address all of the dimensions of fair work through arrangements that balance the rights and responsibilities of employers and workers. In driving effective voice, a range of organisations (e.g. ACAS, EHRC, HSE and IIP Scotland) are available to provide information and support.
- Effective voice requires structures - formal and informal - through which real dialogue - individual and collective - can take place. Having a place, space and time for employers and workers to engage in real and constructive dialogue is crucial. These can take a variety of forms at different levels of an organisation but should not be confined to information sharing.
- More extensive union recognition and collective bargaining could address voice deficit in Scottish workplaces. Trade unions are, on the evidence, the most effective vehicle for worker voice. Best practice in successful unionised organisations can also provide a useful benchmark against which to assess existing worker voice arrangements, including in non-unionised organisations.
- The ability to exercise voice effectively should be supported as a key competence of managers, workers and union representatives and feature in training, development and assessment. Exercising voice also requires time and encouragement.
- Effective voice means that workers have the potential to influence change and it is crucial to demonstrate the effectiveness of voice channels and their influence, for example through 'you said, we did' reporting. Workers are much more likely to exercise their voice where they can see that it can have an impact.
Effective voice in practice
British Airways Maintenance Glasgow (BAMG) is the home of aircraft maintenance for the British Airways Shorthaul fleet and employs 256 full-time
staff, supplemented by contract staff as the workload demands. Recognised unions and management have worked together to ensure BAMG's competitiveness and continued success, including joint initiatives to support expansion into a new facility at Prestwick Airport. Unions have also been involved, along with consultants, in developing a lean and continuous improvement culture at BAMG. Information sharing and joint communication with staff underpin this approach and all sections of staff were involved in the process, using their knowledge and experience to solve problems. Jointly agreed lean practices have lowered aircraft down times by up to 25%, with 3% year on year improvement targets, and through both management and union channels these achievements have been shared across and beyond BAMG to showcase good practice.
The UNITE Edinburgh Not For Profit branch illustrates what can be achieved through a collective approach where a trade union organisation can
speak for a whole industrial sector. Founded in 1978, the branch has around 880 members working with 70 employers in the not-for-profit sector. It has lobbied the City of Edinburgh Council (and formerly Lothian Regional Council) to deliver local authority terms and conditions, including access to pension schemes and contractual sick pay, to comparable employees in the not-for-profit sector. Partnerships were formed with employers to influence and shape funding arrangements that benefited care organisations, their clients and their employees. In recent years the union branch has worked with employers (alongside user and carer organisations) in opposition to competitive tendering, to change the mode of commissioning and to extend the Living Wage to social care. The branch has achieved the important goal of being recognised by the council as a spokesperson for almost 20,000 employees in the local not-for-profit sector.
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