Increasingly public sector industrial relations have become the central concern of governments, practitioners and academics. The main purpose of this monograph is to review key developments in public sector industrial relations, particularly during the period of the Thatcher Government. The emphasis is on the public services, especially local government, the NHS and the civil service. In the first section we review trends in public sector employment (particularly in the light of Government policy to reduce it), wages (in a context of cash limits), and strikes and other forms of industrial action. In the second part we move from “outcomes” to consider recent developments in the structure, organisation and policy of the “actors” in public sector industrial relations. In particular, we examine union organisation, developments in personnel management, bargaining structure, wage determination machinery and procedures, dispute resolution and privatisation initiatives. Developments in these areas are set in the context of the traditional features which distinguish public sector industrial relations from other spheres. In many of the areas under consideration, trends and developments set in train by the post‐1979 Conservative Government are still in the process of being worked out. Overall public sector employment has fallen, but with considerable variation around the average. National wage disputes, with considerable numbers of working days lost, have characterised the public sector since 1979, but the frequency of industrial conflict should not be exaggerated. There are moves to decentralise union and management structures, but the consequences of this have yet to be realised. Pay, however, remains problematic for government, employing authorities and unions. Since 1981–2, public sector settlements have generally been below the rate of inflation, but above the cash limit. The ad hoc policy of determining public sector pay by a mixture of review bodies, measures of comparability and market forces has created an overall picture of confusion. Establishing a fair and rational system of public sector pay remains a key task for any future government.
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