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Management-Union partnerships progressing well


A new report from the Institute of Employment Studies on partnerships between employers and unions suggests that they are surviving and developing well, even in an economically uncertain period.

The author of "Partnership under pressure: how does it survive?", states that "Partnership is a sophisticated form of employee relations that requires mature management and employee representation, but it is more likely to bring economic and organisational success than its alternatives."

The report notes that partnership often begins in response to a crisis. It suggests that successful partnership grows out of top-level commitment, risk-taking by both managers and representative groups, a move away from confrontation, acceptance of the validity of each other’s goal, and investment of time and energy.

Potential threats to successful partnership noted included changes in corporate ownership and management, internal restructuring, loss of key personalities (both management and union), misunderstanding the nature of partnership, an imbalance in skills or knowledge making for a one-sided debate between the parties, and rows over normal business that are not resolved and infect relationships across the board.

Managers are encouraged to respond to failures in employee relations by institutionalising the partnership arrangements and embedding partnership in the culture of the organisation, reinforcing consultative and communication arrangements, training managers and employee representatives in the meaning of partnership and how it operates, selecting managers with the appropriate skills and style, tackling problems that cause irritation between the parties and monitoring organisational health to give advance warning of upcoming difficulties.

Both employers' groups and unions have welcomed the report's findings. John Monks, TUC general secretary, said "Partnership represents an excellent approach to modern industrial relations. Based on mutual trust, it is a far cry from the adversarial formula of the past. This report is a timely review for those seeking to understand the issues better, and addresses the potential problems that must be faced so as to achieve productive employee relations in their own organisation." John Cridland, Deputy Director General of the CBI commented: "Organisations that seek a problem-solving approach to management-union relations, such as offered by partnership arrangements, protect their investments better. Good relations underpin good business; this report can help both sides understand what partnership requires of them, the difficult issues that need to be confronted, and what benefits it can bring."

The report is available from the Institute of Employment Studies.

In November the Industrial Society produced a report, "Managing Partnerships", which suggested that in spite of a positive attitude towards partnership in theory, few companies pursued partnership policies in practice, and those that did often restricted employee involvement to only a few areas of decision-making.


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