Employee representation is the establishment of mechanisms enabling workers and employees to be consulted and collectively bargain on their terms and conditions of employment in the context of legally recognising an independent trade union for this purpose (as per UK legislation). It is also about maintaining good workforce relations and empowering workers and employees.
Whatever the size or type of organisation, people need to engage in meaningful communication with each other. They need to give and take instructions, exchange views and ideas, discuss solutions to problems and consider future developments. However, it is recognised that while there should wherever possible be harmonious relationships between management and staff, there will not always be communality of interest, thus ensuring the need for collective bargaining at the appropriate juncture. Without freedom of association and respect for trade union rights, there can be no employee representation.
Different organisations will have different needs and methods for consultation with staff. Small ones generally have more informal methods, often through direct contact with employees such as a manager walking around and talking to people. Nevertheless, this should not be used as a substitute for or undermining of collective agreements. Larger businesses lend themselves to more formal structures, the nature of which would be a subject for the bargaining agenda. Staff forums may include electronic communication (e-mails, newsletters and online questionnaires etc.), group meetings and one-on-one meetings but, as in smaller firms, none of these tools should be deployed to sabotage existing agreements arising from collective bargaining. A point to consider is that consultation is not briefing, it is dialogue and has specific connotations in workplaces where trade unions are recognised, pursuant to UK and European legislation. According to the ACAS Code of Practice, disclosure of information to trade unions for collective bargaining purposes includes pay and benefits, employee numbers, performance and financial data.
An independent trade union (or labour union) may represent company employees, based on particular industrial sectors or work skills. Alternatively, or in addition, there may be internal company bodies, such as permanent workers councils, worker representatives at Board level, or temporary groups that arise to address a particular issue. Professional associations and institutions, often bodies with self-regulatory legal status, may also represent the interests of their members. However, only the trade union enjoys a legal status commensurate with its independence and as such is indispensable to any notion of employee representation.
Drafting policies and defining specific practices can be a good starting point and foundation for employee communications and consultation. A policy statement can provide an effective means of setting out the values and philosophy of the organisation and would include a commitment to collective bargaining with, as far as possible, a directly-employed workforce, i.e. PAYE employees as opposed to sub-contracted or self- employed workers.