Assessed coursework industrial relations



Discuss the role that 'workplace partnership' strategies play in employee- management relations.


Partnership can be defined as an approach to employment relations based on a thought that employers it reliably responsible and economically effective in dealing with trade unions on matters related to organisational change. It also beneficial for the trade unions, as they get to deal with strategic matters, like organisational change (Stuart and Lucio, 2005).

"Partnership is about challenge, and about change - a new culture in companies, a culture based on co-operation, not conflict; based on trust, not tension" ( Speech by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, at the Partners for Progress Conference, May 1999 cited in Lucio and Stuart,2004,p. 410).

The essay will debate about the nature of partnership and its core characteristics, how partnerships are formulated and their impact on different stake holders. The essay will analyse the positive role work-place partnerships plays in strengthening the employee-management relations and how workplace partnership leads to the cooperative execution of the employers, employees, unions, managers towards attaining common organisational goals.


Partnership can be public- private partnerships and also government and the people. In workplace, partnership is about managing relations between employers and employees (Guest and Peccei, 2001). The TUC has strongly supported partnership and have produced a series of policy document which clearly states the key principles of partnership at workplace. Ackers and Payne (1998 cited in Guest and Peccei, 2001) stated that partnership offers trade unions with opportunities to regain lost ground and establish identity.

There are three different approaches to partnership namely, pluralist, unitarist and hybrid perspectives. The first approach, being the pluralist perspective. This perspective signifies the difference of interest between capital and labour. The main feature of this approach is use of representative system. It includes the involvement of elected representatives (Rogers and Streeck, 1995 cited in Guest and Peccei, 2001). This is done to safeguard the employee's voice in an organisation. The second approach to partnership is firmly rooted in unitarist perspective; the main aim of this approach is to combine employer and employee's interest for attaining maximum involvement and commitment towards the organisation. The focus of this approach lies in profit- sharing by providing each employee an opportunity to gain a financial stake in the company (Blinder 1990; Conte and Svejnar 1990 cited in Guest and Peccei, 2001). It also focuses on employee participation in daily work activities. It lays stress on individual employee performance; here employers sometimes tend to be more autonomous for maximizing the employee's contribution towards achieving the goals of the organisation. Thus this approach might sometimes be a one- sided partnership. This approach also lays stress on the use of high- performance and human resource practices to attain high levels of satisfaction, commitment and loyalty to workforce (Mowday et al.1982; Beer et al. 1985; Walton 1985; Lincoln and Kalleberg 1990; Meyer and Allen 1997; Pfeffer 1998 cited in Guest and Peccei, 2001). The last approach on partnership is the hybrid perspective; it is a combination of pluralist and unitarist perspective. It recognises the representative system and also the importance of employee involvement, and mutual gains. The ideology of this approach is to have formal representative arrangements that are necessary for partnership and also for prevention of exploitation by management.

Characteristics of Partnership

In past few years, union membership has declined from over a half to around a third of the working population, through a combination of job loss, punitive legislation and management de-recognition (Ackers et al., 1996 cited in Ackers and Payne, 1998, p. 529). Ackers and Payne (1998 cited in Lucio and Stuart, 2004) summarised partnership as a movement of the union, with clear opportunities for increased social and economic influence. Partnership is very important for both management and the unions. They both engage themselves into this association because of several reasons (Oxenbridge and Brown, 2001 cited in Lucio and Stuart, 2004). The rationale for management is that it helps industrial relations to move from zero-sum game to a positive- sum one. Partnership along with it brings a shift from hard to soft HRM practices. Stewart and Wass (1998 cited in Lucio and Stuart, 2004) had stated the role of union in the 'new management practices', and how, even after engaging in a critical manner, they bring about change in the organisation following the laws. Partnership may be generally introduced due to a merger or take-over. Unions thus need to facilitate the management during such processes of change (Oxenbridge and Brown, 2001 cited in Lucio and Stuart, 2004). For a union, partnership being consistent and strategic draws the attention. The modernizing project of British trade unionism - Partnership or New Realism has come into play due to the growth of unions roles at work. British Trade unions engage themselves into managerial discourses for their own internal structural inertia. The unions turning into professionals are related to partnership being commercialised. Partnership is an engagement Vis-a- via management. Thus giving priority to market identities and partnership developments may lead to decline of the internal democracy of the unions. (Rigby et al., 1999 cited in Lucio and Stuart, 2004).

Partnership lays the foundation for modern unionism. According to TUC (1999, cited in Lucio and Stuart, 2004, p. 410) partnership is a pact where employers and trade unions work together to attain common objectives such as fairness and competitiveness. This association will be based on common interests such as training, re-skilling and participation thus creating workplace relations full of co-operation, trust and mutual gains (see Guest and Peccei,1998,2001; Kochan and Osterman, 1994; Leisink, 1993, cited in Lucio and Stuart, 2004). Partnership has become very famous among various policy makers in the recent years. It is considered to be the most suitable way in attaining business goals and changing the outlook towards the same. It helps in facilitating mutual trust and gains. Partnership has become an integral part of the government's employment policy and forms a pathway for further modernisation of employment relations, it is also important for trade union renewal and revitalisation (Stuart and Lucio, 2005, p.1). Partnership is also considered as a 'social pact' or an agreement, with the rights and responsibilities of employers, employees and trade unions mentioned in it. According to Ackers and Payne, the employers could not bring about organisational changes without taking the help of trade unions in decision- making. Kochan and Osterman presented a three tier model based on mutual gains for an organisation. This was a step in industrial relation whereby he stated that to attain a competitive advantage one needs the support of the stake holders in an organisation. According to him, labour should get institutionalised. In his model of mutual gains he stated that the economic needs of an organisation and social needs of the labour like security can be taken care of by the involvement of employees in the organisation. His model clearly states how involvement of employees can help in bringing about organisational change and how both employers and employees both benefit in this sort of an association (cited in Stuart and Lucio, 2005, p. 5). According to Cooke (1990, cited in Stuart and Lucio, 2005, p.6) for a partnership to be successful three important aspects have to be fulfilled. Firstly, the association between the employers and employees should be able to solve problems arising within the workplace. Secondly, the roles of the employers and employees within the pact of partnership should be clearly defined and understood for the development of trust among its members. Lastly, the role of the employees in decision making to bring about organisational changes should be made clear and the way in which profits would be shared. Thus stating that partnership is all about "understanding the rules of engagement".

According to Lucio and Stuart (2003 cited in Stuart and Lucio, 2005, p.7) partnership signifies the growth of a new approach to employee- management relations. They stated that it is an approach where risks, gains, and losses are all managed and understood within employment relations. Partnership can be seen as a form of political development and a way to bring about organisational change.

Partnership and IPA

The Involvement and Participation Association (IPA) which advocates partnership, have made a structure with series of 'principles' and practices associated with it, which clearly differentiate ' high partnership' organisations from 'low partnership' organisations ( see Guest and Peccei 1998: 6; 2001 cited in Stuart and Lucio,2005). The principles of IPA include sharing success of the organisation, security and flexibility, developing good communication and consultation and representative and employees voice. (IPA 1997: 4, cited in Guest and Peccei, 2001). These principles help to define the common features that come into play in partnership working. When employees would show a dedication towards the goals of the business and show an inclination towards being flexible in meeting the goals. Therefore, the organisation would also empathize with the employees and make policies to address such issues wherever possible.Therefore, partnership is a relationship between two parties based on mutual gains as well as individual gains. Partnership works best when, during organizational change, the union thinks about the management and vice versa (IPA website). IPA being an independent body has made influential policies and has created a broad network.

Partnership and TUC

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the view of extending the role of organized labour within workplace, and moving a step ahead in industrial relations, formed partnership principles (TUC 2001:2 cited in Stuart and Lucio, 2005) . These principles include joint commitment to the success of an organization, recognition of interests, and commitment to employment security, pay interest on the quality of working life, openness and adding value. These principles are necessary for establishing a relation between unions and employers. The TUC established the Partnership Institute (PI), which is a consultancy and training body for those employers who wish to pursue partnership practices. From Trade Union's perspective, partnership is not only about monetary gains and losses; it is also about ensuring that the rights of the workers, issues like health and safety, training etc are looked after by the employers. Partnership also helps in enhancing the social status of the workers; they can make strategic decisions and aims to get mutual gains. Thus the voice of unions at strategic, functional and workplace level is essential for the success of partnership among trade unions (see Deakin et al. for a view of how corporate governance must involve broader stakeholders cited in Stuart and Lucio, 2005).

Partnership & Government

Workplace partnership is encouraged by both Government funding and ACAS guidance (ACAS 2001 cited in Stuart and Lucio, 2005, p.83). Partnership may result into narrowing the bargaining agenda and introduce new consultative committees which will weaken collective bargaining (Marks et al.1998; Bacon and Storey 2000; Martinez Lucio and Stuart 2000 cited in Stuart and Lucio, 2005). The partnership agreement provides mutual, or uneven, benefits to unions, employers and employees. For example, the TUC (2002 cited in Stuart and Lucio, 2005) has mentioned growth in production and profits has led to reduced absenteeism and lower turnover. Thus, highlighting the positive side of partnership by developing secure and self- fulfilling jobs.

Benefits of Partnership

According to the managers benefits of partnership involves the role of trade unions in making strategic decisions. The unions help in resolving disputes which arise due to mergers and acquisitions. They facilitate multi-tasking and team-working structures. The union being a representation of employees reduces the management's efforts. Unions also helps the management by recruiting skilled- employees, develop training programs. Managers also feel the need of change. The managers have the authority to take the final decision, being partners, provides a chance for the unions to give their advice.A manager should be skilled enough to respond positively to challenges and should keep in mind the needs and decisions of the employees. Partnership working should help a manager achieve their organizational goals (Sparrow and Marchington, 1998).

For trade unions, the benefits of partnership centers around high standards of work environment by providing them better pay, as the employers encourage workers to join unions. For Trade Union Congress partnership is based on four elements namely, employment security, collective employee voice in strategically decision- making, monetary gains and investment in training (Monks, 1998, cited in Sparrow and Marchington, 1998, p.181- 82). A union member should be flexible and should think about all the impacts on business while making any strategic decision. It is solely upon the management to make the final decision. The decisions made by the trade unions should be ideological.

Partnership has evolved due to a number of reasons, due to the change in the regulatory environment in the field of employment, the most significant being the extension of individual employee rights (Smith and Morton 2001 cited in Stuart and Lucio, 2005). This meant that the management has to involve employees in making decisions. Workplace renewal and change was also one of the reasons of increased interest amongst management to see the role of trade unions in management of labour. According to Higgins (1996: 479 cited in Stuart and Lucio, 2005, p.103) "partnership relations at workplace are based on principles of 'mutual trust' and 'efficacy'". Thus, based on this argument both the parties have begun to involve in 'shrewd' arrangements.

British trade unions are using partnership as a strategy for their renewal. The unions have built relations with the employers in an attempt to seek interaction based on social partnership and to get mutual gains (Tailby and Winchester, 2000: 374 cited in Heery, 2002). Unions also lay emphasis on recruitment and organizing, in the aim to revive trade unionism on the basis of collective organization. Thus workers are willing to act in support to unions to provide long- term renewal. Partnership agreement provides a sense of security to union members those who are in good jobs. Partnership agreement regulates the labour markets but its main focus is employment- centered interests of union members. According to Hayman (1997a, cited in Heery, 2002) partnership agreement also focuses on the 'qualitative' needs of workers like employee involvement and communication, equality and 'dignity' at work (Haynes and Allen, 1999; Knell, 1999; Thomas and Wallis, 1998 cited in Heery, 2002). The union uses various methods to represent its members view like various processes of job regulation. Partnership agreement seeks to cultivate shared interests with employers and take form in 'productivity coalition' (Windolf, 1989 cited in Heery, 2002) where in workers commitment and flexibility leads him to gain security, development and involvement in decision making. Partnership also disregards collective bargaining; the main aim is to neglect conflict arising situations in decision- making. The main strategy of partnership is reform union relationships with employers. Thus partnership agreements de- emphasize on effective workplace organizations in advancing worker interests (Blyton and Turnbull,1998: 106 cited in Heery, 2002). Partnership agreements can also help in strengthening workplace organization and develop new opportunities for participation in the strategic decision - making. The strength of partnership lies in the participation of union in capitalist firm and the weakness of partnership lies in assuming that there is enough scope for management- union collaboration in existing companies.(Heery, 2002).


In a world full of competition, technological advancement and increased mobility of capital, employers and trade unions both must understand the importance of partnership for survival and success. They must realise that for success the needs of both the parties should be kept in mind (Monks, this volume cited in Sparrow and Marchington, 1998). Thus, partnership is beneficial for a lot of reasons as it helps in improving employee- management relations. Partnership is also advantageous for trade unions in terms of renewal and improving the quality of work life, it helps in looking after the rights of the workers around workplace like health and safety. It provides mutual gains for both, the employer and the employees, helps in providing skilled employees who thus help in achieving the organisational goals. Partnership helps in the general improvement of industrial relations by improving the relation between employer and employee, employer and trade unions, employer and government.


Guest, D. E. and Peccei, R. (2001) Partnership at work: Mutuality and the Balance of Advantage. British Journal of Industrial Relations.39 (2), pp. 207-236.

Heery, E. (2002) Partnership versus organising: alternative futures for British trade unionism. Industrial Relations Journal. 33(1), pp. 20-35.

Lucio, M.M. and Stuart, M. (2004) Swimming against the tide: social partnership, mutual gains and the revival of 'tired' HRM. International Journal of Human Resource Management. 15(2), pp.410-424

Stuart, M. and Lucio, M.M. (2005) Partnership and Modernisation in Employment Relations. London: Routledge

Sparrow, P. and Marchington, M. (1998) Human Resource Management: The New Agenda, Great Britain: Prentice Hall

Involvement and Participation Association (IPA), 2009 Accessed on 12th of January 2010

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