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Great Jobs are Union Jobs

How unions and collective bargaining create great jobs
Report type
Research and reports
Issue date
Key findings

A report for the TUC by Sian Moore and Bethania Mendes De Brito Antunes, Work and Employment Research Unit, University of Greenwich

This research is based upon ten in-depth case studies where collective bargaining has delivered positive outcomes for workers, particularly in terms of job quality, working hours and work-life balance. In all cases they highlight the positive outcomes of collective bargaining in workplaces with high union membership and active workplace reps:

  • Four of the case studies saw the establishment of new collective bargaining relationships, possibly addressing the legacy of periods of deregulated industrial relations and reflecting a renewed logic for joint regulation.
  • Several cases studies involve negotiated agreements over working time, including the first 35 hour working week in the automotive industry at Bentley, a guaranteed maximum 35-hours week at Warburtons in the food sector, and a reduction in the working day and week from 40 hours to 37.5 in a recycling plant managed by Veolia.
  • Across the case studies collective bargaining protects the notion of ‘unsocial hours’, including overtime, and compensates workers for these hours. It defends work-life balance against the tendency towards ‘on-demand’ working that characterises non-standard contracts. In one case negotiations led to the abandonment of changes to shift patters that would have undermined the precarious work and care arrangements and thus constrained choices of workers.
  • Collective bargaining agreements ensure hours beyond the standard working day, including for part-time workers, are scheduled, planned in advance and adequately compensated. In one case study this involved the replacement of zero-hours contracts with fixed hours, thus increasing the predictability of working hours.
  • In three of the case studies collective bargaining involved members on non-standard contracts. These included the removal of zero-hour contracts, the conversion of agency workers to permanent and the introduction of contracts and of full statements of terms and conditions for freelance (self-employed) workers in BECTU’s agreement covering TV drama.
  • While pay for workers in the UK has generally stagnated, at Bentley, Unite the Union negotiated an above average pay rise over three years and at Cardiff Airport, unions cited Brexit as a motivation for long- term deals that give workers security beyond 2019.
  • Collective bargaining addresses low pay, including a commitment to pay the Living Wage Foundation’s voluntary Living Wage at Cardiff Airport regardless of age.
  • At the Met Office Prospect negotiated a new pay and grading system tackling equal pay in a government agency where the impact of the Government’s pay freeze on the gender pay gap had been exposed. Collective bargaining delivered a significant pay increase to women trapped on lower grades.  
  • Collective bargaining at the Ministry of Defence has pushed back on performance related pay systems in government agencies where these were based upon forced distributions, where a fixed proportion of the workforce are deemed unsatisfactory with implications for their job security. At Delta School’s academy chain appraisal processes have been standardised ensuring that informal observation cannot be used as part of the appraisal process. In other cases, individual performance management systems have been replaced by team-based performance or are now based upon quality rather than production and profit.
  • Two agreements reflected recent legal clarifications that holiday pay should be based on normal pay. There were improvements to holidays in two case studies and in one of these there were enhancements of sick pay.
  • Three agreements addressed a two-tier workforce, where as the result of contracting out or the recruitment of employees on new contracts, employees working alongside each other have been on different terms and conditions.
  • Collective bargaining is delivering significant initiatives on learning and skills. A Personal Trainer Apprenticeship scheme has been developed by the Fire Brigades Union, for members and non-members, promoting fitness and well-being in the workplace. At Openreach, the CWU negotiated a new career pathway providing a progression route for engineers. These and other agreements saw enhanced job quality.
  • Workplace reps are crucial to collective bargaining. They respond to worker grievances, support members and shape bargaining agendas, but also engage members in the process, including consultation over the outcomes of negotiations.  Two collective bargaining agreements embedded the role of reps in the workplace.
  • Employer representatives highlighted the role of collective bargaining in promoting employee engagement at the workplace. This was particularly evident where workplace reps were involved in rigorous consultation processes and workplace ballots with high turn-outs and in most cases large majorities for acceptance of agreements. Employers also appreciated the role of unions in representing collective, rather than individual, workforce interests, challenging the management agenda, providing feedback and bringing ideas to the table.

Download full report (pdf)