The changing role of employee trade union membership and representation

There was an extremely thought-provoking call-in discussion programme on Radio 4 yesterday - it can be listened again here

One caller was an Employment Tribunal 'wing' member, who was clearly alarmed that fee requirements had reduced claims by 80% but resulted in most employees mistreated by their employers being denied access to justice - excepting those sensible enough to have joined trade unions

Another caller ( an SME employer no less ) commented that unions in the bad old days had been a pain but that any worker nowadays who didn't join a union " needed their head examined "

The point was made too that the trade union movement generally now had a golden opportunity to put the bad old days behind it and extend their declining membership into SMEs and service industry sectors etc on the basis that it's the only way that workers can ultimately safeguard their interests.

There were a few negative experiences with trade unions reported too, but the main thrust was as above

I hope some folk at CIPD HQ were tuned-in, as all this I think is just part of far wider socioeconomic and technological change which is heading traditional  employment relationships and employment law towards obsolescence and as a society we need to think about and plan where we are going on all this before the forces of change overwhelm us.

Do colleagues have a view?

  • Hi David
    I didn't manage to hear the broadcast but I would agree in a lot of ways about the fact that Trade Unions now have a golden opportunity to move into areas where they previously haven't reached out to. I have worked in unionised environments for many years and been a member of a union for a number of years - not one which my current employer deals with. I have been conscious of the need for HR to build a good working relationship with the unions and am proud of the fact that I have done so over the years. Things are changing and will continue to change and unions will continue to have a part to play in changing employment law and practices.
  • I will listen to this later David - you certainly make a lot of us think!
  • Hi David

    Thank you for sharing this.

    I am currently conducting extensive research into the general ER climate and particularly about the Business Attitudes that paved the way for the Trade Union Act 2016.

    The link to the survey is


    I would require an extensive number of participants in order to gain significant statistical power to demonstrate that family background, education and work environments and the media play a crucial role in the formation of attitudes towards UK Trade Unions or any form of collective representation. Hopefully one day soon, this rare type of research will inform the government at the time of developing a fairer policy.

    If the link to the survey could be distributed widely either to members, business managers or any other relevant voices I would much appreciate it. There are only a few weeks ahead to collect the data.

    Many thanks to all for your help with this.
  • In reply to Sebastian Carro:

    Hi Sebastian

    All Best with your interesting research.

    Would just observe that in my experience differing workplace cultures can influence such things enormously and that there are significant transnational cultural differences too.

    And I hope I'm not being political or partisan or over dramatic about it when I observe with some incredulity and dismay the enormous stark and ugly barriers to Justice that have now been erected around the Employment Tribunal system in complete disregard of warnings and misgivings from almost everyone involved in operating it and from bipartisan Parliamentary findings. And in complete denial that the resulting slump in Tribunal claims was obviously denying workpeople with serious and entirely legitimate grievances proper access to justice.
  • In reply to David:

    Dear David,

    The final research paper can be downloaded from


    Hope you all enjoy reading it.


  • I would disagree that employment law is becoming obsolescent other than that the gig economy challenges our traditional views of employment status.

    I might argue that it is the decline of trade unions has been encouraged by the rise in employment laws or that the decline in trade unionism has encouraged the growth in employment law to fill the vacuum
  • In reply to Peter Stanway:

    But which drove which ? That might make an interesting paper
  • In reply to Keith:

    I think the decline in unionisation is structural and therefore drove the increase in new laws.
    If I were really cynical I might argue that for all the right wing ideology about red tape etc that there were/are clever conservatives happy to reduce unions agenda wishes.