Representativeness of of the European social partner organisations: Tanning and leather sector – United Kingdom

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 27 July 2009



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Country:
United Kingdom
Author:
Thomas Prosser
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The aim of this representativeness study is to identify the respective national and supranational actors (i.e. trade unions and employer organisations) in the field of industrial relations in the tanning and leather sector in the United Kingdom. In order to determine their relative importance in the sector’s industrial relations, this study will, in particular, focus on their representational quality as well as on their role in collective bargaining.

1. Sectoral properties

The UK tanning and leather sector is a small sector in which three trade unions are active and in which there is a relatively high rate of collective bargaining coverage. There is also a national sectoral-level collective agreement within the sector, which is rare in the context of the UK private sector, and there appears to be industrial peace within the sector. Finally, there is no evidence of trade unions or employer associations engaging in disputes over the right to conclude collective agreements or to be consulted on the direction of public policy within the sector.

Table 1: Profile of tanning and leather sector (NACE code 19.10)
Sectoral properties 1995 2006**
Number of employers n.a. 210
Aggregate employment* n.a. 4,488
Male employment* n.a. 2,087
Female employment* n.a. 2,401
Aggregate employees n.a. 4,488
Male employees n.a. 2,087
Female employees n.a. 2,401
Aggregate sectoral employment as a % of total employment in the economy n.a. 0.015%
Aggregate sectoral employees as a % of the total number of employees in the economy n.a. 0.018%

Notes: NACE = General industrial classification of economic activities within the European Communities (Nomenclature générale des activités économiques dans les Communautés européennes). * Employees plus self-employed persons and temporary agency workers. ** Or most recent data. n.a. = no data available. The figures in this table are partially contested by UKLF (member of COTANCE).

Sources: Financial Analysis Made Easy (FAME) and UK National Labour Force Survey

2. The sector’s trade unions and employer associations

This section includes the following trade unions and employer associations:

1. trade unions which are party to sector-related collective bargaining;

2. trade unions which are a member of the sector-related European Trade Union Federation: Textiles, Clothing and Leather (ETUF:TCL);

3. employer associations which are a party to sector-related collective bargaining;

4. employer associations (business associations) which are a member of the sector-related European business federation – the Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community (COTANCE).

2a Data on the trade unions

Three trade unions are included as sector-related trade unions: the general trade union GMB, Unite the Union (Unite) and the general trade union Community.

2a.1 Type of membership (voluntary vs. compulsory)

GMB: Voluntary

Unite: Voluntary

Community: Voluntary

2a.2 Formal demarcation of membership domain (e.g. white-collar workers, private-sector workers, textile employees, etc.)

GMB is a general trade union with no formal demarcation of membership domain.

Unite was formed as a result of a merger between the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) and Amicus in 2007. It is a general trade union with no formal demarcation of membership domain.

Community is a general trade union with no formal demarcation of membership domain

2a.3 Number of union members (i.e. the total number of members of the union as a whole)

GMB: 590,069 members.

Unite: 1,892,491 members.

Community: 31,886 members.

2a.4 Number of union members in the sector

GMB: No data available.

Unite: 500 members.

Community: No data available.

2a.5 Female union members as a percentage of total union membership

GMB: 44.76%.

Unite: 22.55%.

Community: 16.98%.

2a.6 Domain density: total number of members of the union in relation to the number of potential members as demarcated by the union domain (see 2a.2)

GMB: 2.33%, based on the calculation that GMB is a general union and that its membership domain is theoretically every employee within the economy.

Unite: 7.47%, based on the calculation that Unite is a general union and that its membership domain is theoretically every employee within the economy.

Community: No data available.

2a.7 Sectoral density: total number of members of the union in the sector in relation to the number of employees in the sector, as demarcated by the NACE definition

GMB: No data available.

Unite: 11.14%.

Community: No data available.

2a.8 Sectoral domain density: total number of members of the union in the sector in relation to the number of employees which work in that part of the sector as covered by the union domain

GMB: No data available.

Unite: 11.14%.

Community: No data available.

2a.9 Does the union conclude collective agreements?

GMB: Yes.

Unite: Yes.

Community: Yes.

2a.10 For each association, list their affiliation to higher-level national, European and international interest associations (including cross-sectoral associations)

GMB: Affiliated to ETUF:TCL, the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the Irish Congress of Trades Unions (ICTU), the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU), Public Services International (PSI), UNI Global Union, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM), the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF), the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF), the Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the Federation of International Professional Footballers’ Association (FIFA), the European Federation of Public Services Unions (EPSU), the European Metalworkers’ Federation (EMF), the European Federation of Food, Agriculture, and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT), the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW), the European Transport Workers’ Association (ETF), European Mine, Chemical and Energy Workers’ Federation (EMCEF), Union Network International – Europe (UNI-Europa), and the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU).

Unite: - Affiliated to ETUF:TCL, the TUC, ETF, EPSU, EMCEF, EMF, EFBWW, EFFAT and ITF.

Community - Affiliated to ETUF:TCL, the TUC, the STUC, GFTU, IMF, ITGLWF, UNI, the Wales Trades Union Congress (Wales TUC).

2b Data on the employer associations

2b.1 Type of membership (voluntary vs. compulsory)

UK Leather Federation (UKLF): Voluntary.

Leather Producers’ Association: Voluntary.

2b.2 Formal demarcation of membership domain (e.g. SMEs, small-scale crafts/industry, textile enterprises, etc)

UKLF: In order to be a full member of the UKLF, companies must be involved in the tanning and dressing of leather. However, any company with an interest in leather may become an associate member.

Leather Producers’ Association: Producers of leather are eligible to join the Leather Producers’ Association.

2b.3 Number of member companies (i.e. the total number of members of the association as a whole)

UKLF: 25 companies.

Leather Producers’ Association: 18 companies.

2b.4 Number of member companies in the sector

UKLF: 25 companies.

Leather Producers’ Association: 18 companies.

2b.5 Number of employees working in member companies (i.e. the total number of the association as a whole)

UKLF: 1,350 employees.

Leather Producers’ Association: 800 employees.

2b.6 Number of employees working in member companies in the sector

UKLF: 1,300 employees.

Leather Producers’ Association: 800 employees.

2b.7 Domain density in terms of companies: total number of member companies of the association in relation to the number of potential member companies as demarcated by the association’s domain (see 2b.2)

UKLF: A UKLF official stated that domain density was approximately 60%. However, if one divides the number of member companies in the UKLF by the number of actual companies within the sector, the figure is 11.9%. It is likely that the discrepancy between the figures is due to the UKLF only counting companies over a certain size.

Leather Producers’ Association: A Leather Producers’ Association official stated that domain density was approximately 66%. However, if one divides the number of member companies in the Leather Producers’ Association by the number of actual companies within the sector, the figure is 8.6%. It is likely that the discrepancy between the figures is due to the Leather Producers’ Association only counting companies over a certain size.

2b.8 Sectoral density in terms of companies: total number of member companies of the association in the sector in relation to the number of companies in the sector, as demarcated by the NACE definition

UKLF: A UKLF official stated that the sectoral density was approximately 60%. However, if one divides the number of member companies in the UKLF by the number of actual companies within the sector, the figure is 11.9%. It is likely that the discrepancy between the figures is due to the UKLF only counting companies over a certain size.

Leather Producers’ Association: A Leather Producers’ Association official stated that the figure was approximately 66%. However, if one divides the number of member companies in the Leather Producers’ Association by the number of actual companies within the sector, the figure is 8.6%. It is likely that the discrepancy between the figures is due to the Leather Producers’ Association only counting companies over a certain size.

2b.9 Sectoral domain density in terms of companies: total number of member companies of the association in the sector in relation to the number of companies which operate in that part of the sector as covered by the association’s domain

UKLF: A UKLF official stated that the figure was approximately 60%. However, if one divides the number of member companies in the UKLF by the number of actual companies within the sector, the figure is 11.9%. It is likely that the discrepancy between the figures is due to the UKLF only counting companies over a certain size.

Leather Producers’ Association – A Leather Producers’ Association official stated that the figure was approximately 66%. However, if one divides the number of member companies in the Leather Producers’ Association by the number of actual companies within the sector, the figure is 8.6%. It is likely that the discrepancy between the figures is due to the Leather Producers’ Association only counting companies over a certain size.

2b.10 Domain density in terms of employees represented: total number of employees working in the association’s member companies in relation to the number of employees working in potential member companies, as demarcated by the association’s domain (see 2b.2)

No data available.

2b.11 Sectoral density in terms of employees represented: total number of employees working in the association’s member companies in the sector in relation to the number of employees in the sector, as demarcated by the NACE definition

UKLF: Approximately 29%.

Leather Producers’ Association: Approximately 17.8%.

2b.12 Sectoral domain density in terms of employees represented: total number of employees working in the association’s member companies in the sector in relation to the number of employees working in companies which operate in that part of the sector as covered by the association’s domain

UKLF: Approximately 29%.

Leather Producers’ Association: Approximately 17.8%.

2b.13 Does the employer association conclude collective agreements?

UKLF: No.

Leather Producers’ Association: Yes.

2b.14 For each association, list their affiliation to higher-level national, European and international interest associations (including the cross-sectoral associations).

UKLF: Member of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), COTANCE and the International Council of Tanners (ICT).

Leather Producers’ Association: None.

3. Inter-associational relationships

3.1 Unions whose domains overlap

The domains of Unite, GMB and Community all overlap.

3.2 Do rivalries and competition exist among the trade unions, concerning the right to conclude collective agreements and to be consulted in public policy formulation and implementation?

Representatives from the trade unions concerned stated that, although the domains of the unions overlap, in reality there is no competition and rivalry between the unions concerning the right to conclude collective agreements and to be consulted in public policy formulation and implementation.

3.3 If yes, are certain trade unions excluded from these rights?

Not applicable.

3.4 Same question for employer associations as 3.1

There is a balanced division of labour between the UKLF and the Leather Producers’ Association. The UKLF deals with technical and trade related issues, while the Leather Producers’ Association deals with industrial relations and employment law in the sector. Therefore, the domains of the organisations do not overlap.

3.5 Same question for employer associations as 3.2

No.

3.6 Same question for employer associations as 3.3

Not applicable.

3.7 Are there large companies or employer associations which refuse to recognise the trade unions and refuse to enter collective bargaining?

None of the social partner representatives interviewed reported that this was the case.

4. The system of collective bargaining

4.1 Sector’s rate of collective bargaining coverage

Approximately 50%.

4.2 Relative importance of multi-employer agreements and of single-employer agreements as a percentage of the total number of employees covered

The Leather Producers’ Association agrees a multi-employer agreement with the trade union Community covering approximately 800 workers in the sector, or 17.8% of the sectoral workforce. No further multi-employer agreements appear to exist, and no information was available on single-employer agreements in the sector. However, if one assumes that collective bargaining coverage in the sector is 50%, it is possible to conclude that a further approximately 32.2% of the sectoral workforce are covered by single-employer agreements.

4.2.1 Is there a practice of extending multi-employer agreements to employers who are not affiliated to the signatory employer associations?

No. This procedure does not exist in the UK.

4.2.2 If there is a practice of extending collective agreements, is this practice pervasive or rather limited and exceptional?

Not applicable.

4.3 List all sector-related multi-employer wage agreements* valid in 2006 (or most recent data)

* Only wage agreements which are (re)negotiated on a reiterated basis.

Table 2: Sector-related multi-employer wage agreements
Bargaining parties Scope of sector-related multi-employer wage agreements
  Sectoral Type of employees Territorial
Leather Producers’ Association and the trade union Community Sectoral All UK wide

4.4 Sector’s four most important collective agreements (single-employer or multi-employer agreements) valid in 2006

See the collective agreement listed under section 4.3 above. No other agreements exist in the sector.

5. Formulation and implementation of sector-specific public policies

5.1 Are the sector’s employer associations and trade unions usually consulted by the authorities in sector-specific matters?

In the UK system of industrial relations, employer associations and trade unions do not possess statutory rights to be consulted by the UK public authorities on sector-specific matters. However, in practice, such bodies are often consulted by the UK government on an informal basis. This is the case in the UK tanning and leather sector. Apart from the Sector Skills Council – Skillfast-UK – that covers the sector (see section 5.2 below), there are a few examples of public consultations with the leather and tanning sector social partners on sector-specific matters related to employment. For example, UK trade unions have taken part in discussions with UK public authorities related to working conditions within the sector.

There is more limited information available on the work that sectoral employer associations have engaged in on sectoral employment related matters. However, the UKLF is involved in a wide variety of work pertaining to other issues within the UK tanning and leather sector. In recent years, the organisation has been involved with the UK public authorities on issues related to environmental regulation within the sector, the competitiveness of the sector, and the impact of legislation on the quality of UK leather production. The UKLF also has an interest in industrial training and in health and safety issues.

5.2 Do tripartite bodies dealing with sector-specific issues exist?

A Sector Skills Council, a body set up by the UK public authorities that involves UK trade unions and employers developing skills within sectors, exists in the tanning and leather sector and in other sectors of the economy. The Sector Skills Council is called Skillfast-UK and covers the whole of the UK fashion and textiles sector. The sectoral trade unions GMB, Community and Unite are substantially involved in Skillfast-UK, and have seats on the organisation’s council. The UKLF has an informal association with Skillfast and is, as of February 2009, in discussions regarding more formal representation.

Within the sector, there is also a tripartite Textiles Industry Advisory Committee (TEXIAC). This is a committee administered by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and includes representatives of the trade unions in the leather, footwear, and textile sectors, as well as representatives of the trade associations in these sectors.

Table 3: Sector-specific public policies*
Name of the body and scope of activity Bipartite/tripartite Origin: agreement/statutory Unions having representatives (reps) Employer associations having reps
Skillfast-UK Bipartite Statutory GMB, Community, Unite No data available
TEXIAC Tripartite No data available GMB, Community, Unite UKLF

Note: * Sector-specific policies specifically target and affect the sector under consideration.

6. Statutory regulations of representativeness

6.1 In the case of the trade unions, do statutory regulations exist which establish criteria of representativeness which a union must meet, so as to be entitled to conclude collective agreements?

In order to enjoy certain legal privileges, trade unions must be certified as being independent by the UK Certification Officer. Below is a citation from the annual report of the UK Certification Officer:

For trade unions, listing is an essential preliminary to any application for a certificate of independence under section 6 of the 1992 Act [Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992]. It is also one of the requirements for obtaining tax relief in respect of expenditure on provident benefits (section 467 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988) and a listed union enjoys certain procedural advantages in connection with the devolution of property following a change of trustees (section 13 of the 1992 Act). There are no equivalent advantages for employers’ associations. However, there are two benefits of listing which are shared by trade unions and employers’ associations. The fact of being on the relevant list is evidence (in Scotland, sufficient evidence) that the organisation is a trade union or employers’ association. Further, the name of a trade union or employers’ association is protected by the provision that an organisation shall not be entered in the relevant list if its name so nearly resembles the name of an organisation already on that list as to be likely to deceive the public.

However, the voluntarist nature of the UK system of industrial relations entails that an employer is free to conclude whatever agreement they wish with any party – including, for example, a staff association that is not deemed to be independent.

6.2 In the case of the trade unions, do statutory regulations exist which establish criteria of representativeness which a union must meet, so as to be entitled to be consulted in matters of public policy and to participate in tripartite bodies?

No, see above.

6.3 Are elections for a certain representational body (e.g. works councils) established as criteria for trade union representativeness?

No.

6.4 Same question for employer associations as 6.1

Owing to the voluntarist nature of the UK system, employers are free to conclude collective agreements with whichever parties they choose.

6.5 Same question for employer associations as 6.2

No.

6.6 Are elections for a certain representational body established as criteria for the representativeness of employer associations?

No.

7. Commentary

A number of trends characterise the issue of representativeness in the UK tanning and leather sector. First, the tanning and leather sector is very small in its significance to the UK economy. With only 4,488 employees in the sector, this constitutes merely 0.015% of all employment in the UK economy. This is also a sector in which there has been a decline in employment levels over the previous decade. In 1998, a total of 5,647 workers were employed in the tanning and leather sector, 74.1% of whom were men. In 2008, the latter figure had dropped to 46.5%. An increased participation of women in the sector’s workforce has therefore occurred over the previous decade. In contrast to other areas of the UK private sector, the tanning and leather sector would also appear to enjoy a relatively high rate of collective bargaining coverage.

A collective bargaining coverage of 50% in the sector contrasts favourably with the economy-wide figure of 35%. The tanning and leather sector is also particularly remarkable in that it has a sectoral-level collective agreement in place that is agreed annually between the Leather Producers’ Association and the trade union Community. In the UK private sector, sectoral-level collective agreements are generally very rare given the trend towards company or plant-level agreements, and the UK tanning and leather sector is thus remarkable in this regard. Historically, the sectoral-level agreement has been concluded between the Leather Producers’ Association and the trade unions Community and T&G. However, the July 2008 agreement was merely agreed between Community and the Leather Producers’ Association. The absence of T&G from the most recent agreement was due, according to a Leather Producers’ Association official, to the lack of importance that the union attached to the sector given its size, and due to the fact that T&G had merged with Amicus in 2007 to form Unite. Currently, it is unclear whether Unite will join negotiations for the next collective agreement in the sector.

In common with many other economic sectors in the UK, there does not seem to be many overt disputes between trade unions in the tanning and leather sector over the right to be consulted over the direction on public policy and to conclude collective agreements. As is the case in other sectors, relations between the sectoral trade unions appear to be conducted without animosity. There also appears to be a clear division of labour between the employer organisations within the sector. UKLF does not attempt to become involved in collective negotiations with trade unions and allows the Leather Producers’ Association to engage in such negotiations without any conflict. Finally, there is little evidence of the existence of widespread industrial conflict within the sector. In 2007, no work stoppages were recorded in the sector and thus no working days were lost.

Thomas Prosser, IRRU, University of Warwick

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