This week employees gained a new right. Employers can no longer veto the right of employees to choose to be collectively represented through a union. This will be followed soon by the right to be individually represented in grievance and disciplinary procedures by a union representative.
This could have a significant impact on how IT staff are treated by their employers. In contract law, the individual employee and the employer are equal parties to the employment relationship, but the reality is very different. Employers are drafting contracts of employment where they can unilaterally change the terms. Most conditions of employment are not individually determined, but based on collectively applied terms such as pension schemes, sickness arrangements, holiday provision, and so on. These terms are not usually open to change by individual employees.
Unions have developed through the growth of autonomous workplace groups of self-organised employees, with access to the expertise and resources of full-time professional assistance based inside and not outside the employing organisation. Employers who attempt to dissuade employees from obtaining access to expertise overlook their own reliance on a veritable battery of outside third party advisors such as accountants, lawyers and management consultants.
The need to recruit and retain in times of skill shortage, the realisation that in the knowledge economy human intellectual capital is key, and changes to employment legislation are combining to cause UK IT sector employers to review their approach to employee representation and union relationships.
Peter Skyte is National Secretary, MSF Information Technology Association
This was first published in June 2000