This HeartUnions week we’ve been focusing on the need to stamp out zero-hours contracts.
It’s a vital part of our campaign to deliver better workplace rights for everyone. And we need government to step up and make sure these contracts can’t exist anywhere in the labour market.
But we know that if we want to go beyond stamping out the worst excesses of exploitation, we need to go beyond just government action. We need stronger trade unions in the workplace who can bargain on behalf of their workers to deliver decent jobs, decent workplaces, and a better economy.
Shifting the balance of power
At the heart of trade-unionism is the recognition that individual workers are in an unequal power relationship with their employer. Each worker needs their pay packet more than most employers need that particular person’s skills. But when workers can organise and bargain collectively, that power imbalance starts to shift. It’s harder to tell 50 employees that they can easily be replaced than it is to tell one.
But it’s not just that collective bargaining gives workers a better chance of getting their demands heard by their employer. The existence of an independent collective voice in the workplace also gives workers the confidence to highlight important issues that need to be raised.
Telling your boss you have concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace is daunting. Telling your workplace rep that you’d like the issue raised as part of the collective bargaining agenda makes it clear that you’ve got someone on your side.
That’s why the recognition agreement that GMB have just signed with Hermes, or the deal Unite signed with Ryanair last year, and the hundreds of already existing collective agreements are so important. They don’t just give workers better pay and benefits. They give them a voice at work too.
Collective bargaining works
We know that collective bargaining delivers at a workplace level. Workers in unionised workplaceshave better pay, more training, better work-life balance policies, better pensions, and are less likely to leave their job.
But more and more evidence shows that collective bargaining delivers for workers across the economy too – particularly when workers can bargain with employers to set standards across a whole industry or sector. The OECD – the club of rich nations – published evidence this yearshowing that collective bargaining can help tackle inequality, boost business productivity, and help groups who are discriminated against in the labour market get and keep jobs.
The key role of trade unions
In 2016, the IMF showed that trade unions are key to the fight against economic inequality. And just last year, researchers at the Bank of England showed that while the rise of big firms that dominate a sector can push pay down, trade unions act to protect workers’ wages against the power of the big companies.
These aren’t radical institutions. But they’re recognising that boosting workers’ power helps everyone.
So this HeartUnions week we want to see the end of zero-hour contracts. But most of all we want to see trade unions given the power to collectively bargain – and deliver better jobs for everyone.