Collective Bargaining in UK Local Government

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW2.3.04 (Tower Two)
Mathew Johnson, Manchester Business School, Manchester, United Kingdom
This article illustrates the way in which the sector-level collective bargaining agreement in UK local government has been successfully re-positioned by the national employers as an instrument through which to deliver financial discipline for local authorities rather than a means to offer equity and equivalence in workers’ wages. The findings suggest that whilst the distributive nature of negotiations is partly due to the financial constraints of centrally administered budget cuts, austerity has consolidated the power imbalance between bargaining parties. Employers still see unions as an important element of managing employment relations but in order to remain at the bargaining table the unions may be forced deeper into a defensive or concession bargaining position. Despite significant efforts on the part of the unions to build institutional resources through organising and recruitment, mobilising workers for strike action is becoming increasingly problematic and appears to have little effect on the substantive outcome of negotiations. It appears that both the employers and unions draw a degree of legitimacy from the existing framework which protects the weakest councils and union branches alike, but questions remain about the future of the sector agreement, particularly where local level actors successfully create new spaces to trade-off terms and conditions against job security and protection for low earners in the form of the living wage. The employers may yet be undone by the incompatibility of tight cost control through the national agreement and attempts to foster ‘high road’ human resource management strategies at a local level, with weak earnings growth undermining the ‘war for talent’ and reinforcing the image of local government as a low pay, low prospects sector.