HRM in The United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is unique in the European context in that during the 1980s its employment legislation was subject to radical changes. Most notably, this legislation includes the Employment Acts of 1980, 1982, 1988, and 1990 and the Trade Union Act of 1984, which impose severe civil penalties. Together, these acts curbed the unions’ right to recognition, outlawed the closed shop and secondary picketing, and narrowed the freedom of unions to call strikes, for instance, by requiring that a secret ballot of the members be called first. The result was a considerable increase in general managerial autonomy (Edwards et al., 1992).

At the same time, union membership dropped from more than half of the workforce in 1979 to less than a third in 1995 (Economist, 1996), and, more significantly, the proportion of workers covered by collective bargaining declined from 75 percent in 1980 to 45 percent in 1994 (Economist, 1997). The continuing ebb in the power of unions is clearly indicated by the finding that 38 percent of British firms in 1994 reported a decrease in local union influence (Nordhaug, 1997). These changes in union power have provided “wide scope for managerial innovation in employment and labour strategies” (Rubery and Wilkinson, 1994: 11), thereby paving the way for the introduction of calculative practices (Hendry and Pettigrew, 1990).

Not only did the changes in the United Kingdom effect an erosion of the bargaining power of labor unions and a concomitant increase in managerial autonomy (Edwards et al., 1992), they also provided the impetus for a shift in the role of personnel departments in British firms. Throughout the postwar period, but particularly in the 1970s and early 1980s, personnel specialists had, with some success, emphasized their role as industrial relations experts (Legge, 1995). With the demise of this role, personnel departments have been under pressure to develop a broader range of professional services, which in large part has included the various techniques associated with the collaborative approach. To a large extent, they have reacted by seeking to preserve their credibility by attempting to become facilitators preoccupied with issues related to training and development, internal communication, and integration of business strategy and human resource management (Marchington et al., 1994)…

In summary, British firms generally are confronted with neither detailed regulative pressures nor labor unions with any significant influence on management.

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