Loughborough University
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The road not taken: why has national collective bargaining survived in English local government?

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posted on 2013-06-25, 08:27 authored by Peter F. Beszter
Despite the decline of collective bargaining and trade union membership in the British private sector over the past thirty years, and much academic discussion of 'marketisation' in the public sector, national collective bargaining in English local government has remained remarkably robust - as demonstrated by the Workplace Employment Relations Surveys (Millward et al. 2000). Most academic research on employment relations in the public sector has focused on 'change'. In this study I wish to examine the roots of 'continuity' and a surprising institutional survival. After three decades of reform, national collective bargaining still remains central to the local government employment relations architecture, and contrary to the 'hollowing out' thesis, national agreements are still the bulwark upon which both national and local government (and the related actors: trade unions, management, politicians) rely upon to engage in the process of joint regulation in the workplace. The study has three main objectives: Firstly, to explore why the institutional actors support or do not support the national collective bargining framework in English local government. Secondly, the extent to which national collective bargaining is supported and promoted applying an institutional theory analytical framework. Thirdly, what institutional processes explain the resilience of national collective bargaining in English local government? A sectoral study is used to explore the political dynamics that underlie the survival of national collective bargaining in English local government. This follows a 'firm in sector' methodology (Smith et al., 1990), in which a benchmark authority is compared and contrasted with eight other local authorities. The authorities were chosen by taking account of factors such as size (employing more than 2000 workers); type (metroplitan (7) and shire (2); geography (north (2), midlands (4), south west (1) and south east (2); and status (are they part of the national collective bargaining framework or outside of it.) The 'firm in sector' methodology allows for the examination of issues at an organisational level, building on the Workplace Employment Relations Surveys, which have focused more at a macro level. The study will drill down in detail within the benchmark authority; however, the study is nevertheless dependent on understanding the wider sectoral landscape in which the benchmark authority is located and therefore considers how its experiences compare with local authorities who chose to belong or not belong to the national collective bargaining framework. The thesis makes three contibutions. Firstly, it raises the issue of continuity within English local government employment relations and why national collective bargaining has continued to survive and remain relevant. Secondly, it considers what makes English local government different from other parts of the public sector, and what we can learn from this difference. Thirdly, it highlights the value of a new institutional perspective, as a tool for employment relations analysis.





  • Business and Economics


  • Business


© Peter Frank Beszter

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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