Trade unions and human resource management in Britain: case study evidence from the public sector, utilities and manufacturing

Peter Fairbrother (University of Warwick, Coventry, England)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Publication date: 1 December 1996


Observes that there has been much discussion about human resource management (HRM) policies and packages and what their implications may be for trade unionism. Explores the impact of HRM policies and practices on trade unionism through a detailed three‐year case study examination in manufacturing, utilities and the civil service. Advances the argument that the way unions deal with HRM at a local level is varied and depends on the traditions and forms of union organization and practice in different sectors, although common to these packages is the attempt to individualize work relations and weaken the resources of collective worker power. Maintains that, in the context of considerable restructuring and job insecurity in the manufacturing sector, union responses have been largely reactive and muted, occasionally resulting in the emergence of debilitating union forms of “social partnership”. In contrast, HRM policies in the public sector and the utilities have been one part of a more profound restructuring in these sectors and unions have been faced with the problem of developing or revitalizing workplace forms of organization. Concludes by asserting that such developments place the question of the way unions organize and operate at a workplace level, in the context of individualized and consensual work relations firmly back on union agenda.



Fairbrother, P. (1996), "Trade unions and human resource management in Britain: case study evidence from the public sector, utilities and manufacturing", Employee Relations, Vol. 18 No. 6, pp. 10-27.

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Copyright © 1996, MCB UP Limited

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