The impact of collective bargaining structures on workplace performance

Funded by: Department of Trade and Industry


January 2000 to September 2000

PSI researchers:

Background, summary and aims


It is well established that, over the last two decades, British trade unions have been in decline. The unionised sector of the economy has shrunk due to a continual decline in union membership since the early 1980s and, since the mid-1980s, a rapid fall in the number of employers recognising unions for collective bargaining. In workplaces where unions have retained a foothold, they appear to have lost influence. Unions suffered reductions in their bargaining agendas in the early 1980s, whilst this did not persist in the second half of the decade, other issues became less subject to union influence. Most notably there was a fall in union wage differentials, reductions in bargaining power translating into a reduced share of available rents going to union members. Unions were also having diminishing control over the pace of work, the internal deployment of labour, and recruitment. Since then, union membership density has continued to fall where employers recognise unions, reflecting further decline in union organisational capacity (Cully and Woodland, 1998).

The aim of the study is to provide a robust statistical assessment, based on a secondary analysis of the 1998 Workplace Employee Relations Survey (WERS98), of the effects that different forms of collective bargaining arrangements have on workplace performance. In particular, to establish whether the different forms of bargaining arrangements are associated with different outcomes. In assessing workplace performance the study will examine a) financial performance and b) the climate of management-employee relations from both management and employee perspectives.

Study Design

The research will be carried out through detailed quantitative analysis of the 1998 Workplace Employee Relations Survey and its 1990 predecessor. The surveys contain the most detailed information available for quantitative analysis of the ways in which employers take decisions about the distribution of jobs and their terms and conditions.

The research combines detailed tabular analysis of the WIRS datasets with multivariate statistical analysis of financial performance and the employee relations climate using WERS98. The findings will be used to draw implications for policy and practice for government, employers, employees and their representatives.