The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices sets out a wide range of recommendations to further the review’s core aim of creating good work in UK workplaces. The proposals cover almost every aspect of employment practice, including the importance of creating opportunities for employee voice and representation.

As the report states:

'A greater voice in the organisational decisions that affect your job can make people feel better about their work. It can also add to a more collegiate environment between management and staff, boosting the feeling of fulfilment and increasing productivity.'

Under chapter 7, dealing with ‘Responsible business’, the review explores voice in the workplace, including the positive role of formal trade union representation but it also quite rightly points out that “voice can and should be exercised even where there is little or no trade union organisation and representation.”

At this point it’s worth bearing in mind that the latest official figures on trade union membership published in 2017 show that the proportion of employees who were trade union members fell to 23.5% in 2016, down from 24.7% in 2015 – the lowest rate of union membership recorded since 1995. Union membership in the private sector is even lower, at 13.4%. These statistics alone demonstrate the importance of offering people at work the widest possible opportunities for information and consultation that are not restricted to the more traditional form of collective representation via trade unions. Which brings us on to the core focus of Taylor’s recommendations for voice – reform of the Information and Consultation of Employees (ICE) Regulations…

The ICE regs – ripe for reform?

The ICE regs were eagerly anticipated by some in the employment relations field when they were introduced in 2005. They apply to businesses with 50 or more employees and give them the right (if certain conditions are met) to ask their employer to establish arrangements to inform and consult them about organisational issues. It isn’t an automatic process but requires a formal request from employees wishing to instigate the process, or from the employer wanting to set up information and consultation arrangements. Currently, at least 10% of (and a minimum of 15) employees need to support the request.

The ICE regs have not had the reach that some hoped they would have. According to the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Survey 7% of all workplaces were covered by joint consultative committees (JCCs) in 2011. The Taylor review finds that 14% of workplaces in organisations with 50 or more employees had an on-site Joint Consultation Committee (JCC) in 2011, ‘largely as a result of the threshold restrictions.’

It recommends that, as a first step to changing the culture in organisations:

'Government should examine the effectiveness of the Information and Consultation Regulations in improving employee engagement in the workplace. In particular it should extend the Regulation to include employees and workers and reduce the threshold for implementation from 10% to 2% of the workforce making the request.'

The CIPD very much welcomes Taylor’s perspective on the importance of employee voice, and also his recommendation to review the ICE regulations – there could indeed be merit in extending their scope to include employees and workers and reducing the threshold form 10% to 2% of the workforce making the request.

Engaging trade unions

There is much more scope for broader and hybrid forms of representation and consultation in the workplace rather than indirect representation by trade unions alone – who are not effectively reaching significant sections of the labour market, including in the emerging new business models. We need to encourage alternative collective forms of representation that could be encouraged by reform and more effective promotion of the ICE regs.

It’s disappointing that the ICE regs have not had a major impact on voice in the UK so far, as they had the potential to give voice to a much wider section of UK workplaces. One of the reasons for this is the ambivalence shown by sections of the trade union movement, potentially viewing them as a threat to trade union representation and collective bargaining.

The CIPD, in collaboration with the Department for Business Innovation & Skills and Acas, carried out a four-year longitudinal study of the ICE regs through case studies in 25 organisations.

The 2010 report found that:

' union ambivalence towards the Regulations at the national level was also reflected in the organisations covered in the research, at least initially’ and that ‘in only one case of the 12 where unions were recognised did they show any interest prior to management initiating the formation of I&C bodies.'

'It observed that suspicion of managements’ motives was greater where union membership was low and “here unions sought to protect their collective bargaining rights.'

The report concluded that:

'It is time for trade unions to re appraise their ambivalent approach to ICE. Fears of loss of recognition for collective bargaining and declining membership have not been borne out in the research. The operation of ‘hybrid’ I&C bodies has generally been effective, subject to management willingness to consult, and has provided unions with access to senior management.'

JCCs can exist alongside more traditional forms of representation by trade unions – and there is evidence to show that hybrid forms can be very effective in capturing the diversity of workers’ voice. And, as Taylor says, “In some cases, the adoption of Information & Consultation practices might be a step on the way to greater involvement of collective representation more generally.”

Regulatory change alone is not enough

We agree with Taylor’s recognition that “legislation alone is not going to engender the sort of change that we are looking to achieve.” Also, that there are “a wide variety of organisations, including Investors in People, Acas and Trade Unions, who have extensive expertise in workplace relations.”

For reform of the ICE regs to have real impact it will be necessary for government, as the key enabler, to launch a campaign with key stakeholders, including trade unions, and work in partnership to change attitudes about how effective information and consultation arrangements can contribute to good work – including in workplaces that are marginalised from more traditional forms of collective representation.

We, therefore, fully support the review’s other recommendation for voice that:

'Government should work with Investors in People, Acas, Trade Unions and others with extensive expertise in this area to promote further the development of better employee engagement and workforce relations, especially in sectors with significant levels of casual employment.'

About the author

Rachel Suff, Senior Policy Adviser, Employee Relations

Rachel Suff joined the CIPD as a policy adviser in 2014 to increase the CIPD’s public policy profile and engage with politicians, civil servants, policy-makers and commentators to champion better work and working lives. An important part of her role is to ensure that the views of the profession inform CIPD policy thinking on issues such as health and wellbeing, employee engagement and employment relations. As well as conducting research on UK employment issues, she helps guide the CIPD’s thinking in relation to European developments affecting the world of work. Rachel’s prior roles include working as a researcher for XpertHR and as a senior policy adviser at Acas.

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