Successful partnership

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For the purposes of this essay it is prudent for us to infer that if partnership approaches appear to be successful then this indicates that management priorities in industrial relations are changing. Ackers and Payne (1998) point out that ‘both management and unions have many common goals’ on issues like training, health and safety and quality. These ‘Common Aims’ of ‘Employers and employee representatives’ require ‘a joint commitment to the success of the enterprise’ a need for ‘trust’, and recognition of ‘the legitimacy of the role of each party’. According to them all this rests upon four key areas in which management and trade unions need to rethink their approach, these are outlined briefly below:

Security of Employment and Job Security – where a joint approach founded on flexibility and a sense of personal security facilitated by ‘increased training and career development’ must be adopted. Sharing in the Success of the Organisation – through financial rewards and other benefits, here management must be seen to be fair e.g. they should not give excessive pay increases to top management. Employees rights to be informed and consulted about matter of concern to them – this involves a clear two way channel of communication and information, including techniques like TQM, Team Working and Quality Circles

Representation of the Workforce – changes are needed here, trade unions should acknowledge that they ‘are no longer the sole channel of representation’ while employers should accept ‘the basic justification for representative structures’ According to Tailby and Winchester (2000), a number of employers have embraced enthusiastically the partnership concept, and some of the best publicized partnership agreements were actually concluded before the TUC had set out its own policy proposals.

For example the New deal negotiated by Unions and management at the Rover Car Company in 1991/2 included job security commitments in return for greater flexibility and the extension of team-working, this matches our four point model above and represented a significant change in management priorities given the previous adversarial bargaining in the company. Many early agreements in partnership were concentrated in manufacturing areas like this as well as the privatised utilities, but interest in partnership has since spread to organisations in retail, finance and the public services (Tailby and Winchester, 2000).

Another example which indicates that the adoption of partnership agreements are changing management’s priorities comes from the Cooperative Bank. In 1997 the bank launched its Seven Partners programme, detailing its idealised new relationships with shareholders, customers, employees and their families, suppliers, the community, society and past and future generations (Travis, 2002). This deal sought to provide a framework for the sensitive and effective use of change management, as well as employment security policies in exchange for employee commitment to change, improved pay and rewards and training commitments.

Travis (2002) points out that the partnership agreement in 1997 paved the way for more meaningful and open dialogue, changing the general approach to industrial relations. Management agreed to exchange and consult union representatives about business issues and change initiatives at an early stage as well as sharing concerns and ideas. The success and benefits that this partnership approach have bought to the company are numerous indeed such positive progress has been made that a second partnership agreement was made running from April 2000 to March 2003.

The partnership agreement at Barclays bank also fits in with our four point model indicating that management’s priorities appear to be changing. The agreement here allows for the joint review of issues such as equal opportunities, family-friendly working, performance management, job evaluation, and the impact of information technology (Heery, 2002). Further indicating that management priorities are changing, Heery (2002) points out that at Barclays there is a renewed stress on consultation and a prominent feature of partnership agreements such as this one is the creation of new company councils or forums acting as advisors to management.

Also in such cases as this one, there has been reliance on joint working and problem-solving groups, in which management and worker representatives come together to develop policy or resolve difficulties in the systems of work and employment relations. Previously Barclays had no such union-management partnership agreements thus indicating to us that the adoption of partnership approaches at Barclays and other similar companies has changed managements priorities, indeed management at Barclays now appear to be much more cooperative with unions allowing for greater communication and much higher levels of trust between the two parties.

Finally the partnership agreements agreed by Welsh Water also indicate that management priorities are changing. A culture-change programme was initiated and two key foundations were put in place: a joint project to involve the unions in changing working practices; and a strong commitment to management development and training (Tailby and Winchester, 2000). Four partnership agreements have been agreed between management and full time union officials between 1991 and 1998 proposing such things as new pay formulas, more flexible working conditions, empowerment and greater job security. These packages have been hailed as a major breakthrough in union management relations as it indicates a move away from an adversarial structure of annual pay negotiations towards greater trust in relations between management, unions and employees based on job security (Tailby and Winchester, 2000).

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