We’re not powerless…yet

It did not come as a great surprise that the poll by Survaton for the Fair Work Commission found that employers have more power than workers. However, it was surely right to ask this generation whether they think so. What is revealing is that despite over four decades of  employment protection legislation – since the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Health & Safety At Work Act 1974, the Employment Protection Act 1975, Pensions Act 1975 and countless others since, including a raft of European Union Directives -  more than 1 in 10 employees feel they have no power and therefore rights, at all!


So, was it all a waste of time and effort by unions and the TUC since the late 1980s, in plugging this line of ‘positive’ individual legal rights, almost as an alternative to the traditional ‘voluntarist’ focus on industrial relations? Of course not. Many of those legal rights have significantly improved things for millions of workers who would otherwise not have anything. But there has been a tendency to rely too much on perfecting such ‘paper’ rights at the expense of up-dating traditional, but more difficult collective forms of protection.


However, the fact is that in today’s ‘flexible’ and ever contracting labour markets, employees are still extremely vulnerable, despite having some legal rights. Unions 21 are to be congratulated for its many imaginative initiatives to stir the collective imagination of workers to find other solutions again – at the workplace and wherever they operate. That seems to me to be the way forward.


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