The Changing Face of Employer Collective Action: The Case of Business in the Community Wales

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
TW2.3.02 (Tower Two)
Cassandra Bowkett, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Marco Hauptmeier, N/A, United Kingdom; Cardiff University, Cardiff Business School, United Kingdom; Cardiff University, Cardiff Business School, United Kingdom; N/A, United Kingdom; Cardiff University, Cardiff Business School, United Kingdom; Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Edmund Heery, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Brief Summary: Collective employer representation in the UK has changed in a fundamental way in recent decades. Collective bargaining has declined and instead employer associations place a greater emphasis on consultancy, lobbying and providing services for their members. Alongside these changes, we have seen the emergence of significant new forms of collective organization: the employer forums which are single-issue based and typically focus on issues of equality, diversity and social policies. This paper examines this new form of collective action through a case study, focussing on Business in the Community Wales. The paper compares employer forums with traditional employers’ associations and hereby establishes what is new and distinctive about employer forums.

Substantive Content: Business in the Community is the largest and oldest employer forum in the UK. The paper focuses on the Welsh branch of this national organization. It has a varied membership and is not limited by member business size or sector. It was set up by corporate firms, typically the first to leave the previous collective or industry bargaining in the 1980s.  BITC Wales also departs from traditional employer associations in terms of its relationships with members, partners and government. The primary and supportive activity that BITC Wales undertakes are service focused, include consultancy and team building activities, while informal relationships with other NGOs, partner organisations, other employer organisations and local government are used to organise events, programmes, and to support government initiatives, in regions of deprivation.  As one of the oldest identified employer forums, its distinctive characteristics are explored against those of traditional employer association activity, and include a networked approach to managing and controlling for competition within the CSR sphere, an agenda driven by corporate membership through its Board and a range of membership offerings that provide a mixture of training and consultancy services.  There are no relationships acknowledged with unions, it doesn’t represent employees in anyway.  No political lobbying is undertaken for reduction to legislation, as BITC prefers to advocate a non-legislative voluntarist approach involving promoting and encouraging best practice in relation to its organising precept of CSR. 

Methodology: The paper is based on single case study of Business in the Community Wales. We use a range of applied research method and data, including semi structured interviews with representatives and current and former staff of the employer forum as well as documentary analysis of internal documents, the organization’s website and newspaper articles. For analytical purposes we compare traditional employer associations and employer forums. The characteristics of employers’ associations are established through a review of previous literature. The distinct characteristics of employer forums are distilled from the case study. Comparing traditional employer associations and employer forum provides the paper with analytical leverage to establish what is new about employer forums. In particular the analytical framework focuses on logics of membership, modes of interaction and main and secondary functions and in addition benefits for membership, power and resources and governance are explored to a lesser degree.

Conclusion: This paper sets out to explore a new, under-researched form of employer organisation by looking at one of the regional branches of employer forum Business First, one of the largest and oldest of its type.  This research provides a detailed analysis of the characteristics of this employer forum in comparison to the characteristics of employer associations as discussed in the literature, and so provides insight into the changing face of employer collective action in the UK context. 

Selection of References:

Behrens, M. 2004. New Forms of Employers' Collective Interest Representation? Industrielle Beziehungen/The German Journal of Industrial Relations, pp. 77-91.

Brown, W. and Walsh, J. 1991. Pay determination in Britain in the 1980s; the anatomy of decentralization. Oxford Review of Economic Policy7(1), pp. 44-59.

Crouch, C. 1993. Industrial relations and European state traditions. Oxford University Press.

Greenwood, J. and Traxler, F. 2013. United Kingdom. In: Traxler, F. and Huemer, G. eds. Handbook of business interest associations, firm size and governance: A comparative analytical approach.  Routledge.