Representativeness of the European social partner organisations: Steel industry – United Kingdom

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 21 September 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 steel industry 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 steel industry is characterised by high rates of unionisation and collective bargaining coverage. Although no sectoral collective agreements exist, there is evidence to suggest that the majority of large employers recognise trade unions and that the sector is not characterised by a high degree of industrial strife. Among the sectoral social partners, it does not appear that there are widespread disputes over the rights to collectively bargain and to be consulted by the UK public authorities over the direction of public policy.

Table 1: Profile of steel industry
Sectoral properties 1995 2008**
Number of employers n.a. 287***
Aggregate employment* n.a. 67,506
Male employment* n.a. 60,594
Female employment* n.a. 6,912
Aggregate employees n.a. 64,645
Male employees n.a. 57,733
Female employees n.a. 6912
Aggregate sectoral employment as % of total employment in economy n.a. 0.23%
Aggregate sectoral employees as % of total number of employees in economy n.a. 0.26%

Notes: * Employees plus self-employed persons and temporary agency workers; ** Extracted from January–March 2008 UK Labour Force Survey data; *** As registered on Financial Analysis Made Easy (FAME) 2008 as having at least two employees in the last reported year. n.a. = no data available.

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; (In line with the conceptual remarks outlined in the accompanying briefing note, we understand sector-related collective bargaining as any kind of collective bargaining within the sector, i.e. single-employer bargaining as well as multi-employer bargaining. For the definition of single- and multi-employer bargaining, see 4.2)

2. trade unions which are a member of the sector-related European federation, the European Metalworkers’ Federation (EMF);

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

4. employer associations or business associations which are a member of the sector-related European business federation, the European Confederation of Iron and Steel Industries (Eurofer).

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, metalworking 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 union with no formal demarcation of membership domain.

Community represents workers in the clothing, textiles, footwear, steel and gambling sectors. It was formed as a result of a merger between the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (ISTC) and the National Union of Knitwear, Footwear and Apparel Trades in 2004. ISTC had traditionally recruited workers in the iron and steel sectors.

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: No data available.

Community: 17,000 members.

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: No data available.

Community: 26.30%.

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

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 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 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), 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), the 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 the TUC, ETF, EPSU, EMCEF, EMF, EFBWW, EFFAT and ITF.

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

2b Data on the employer associations

The only employer association in the UK that meets the criteria set out above is UK Steel as it is a member of Eurofer. None of the other employer associations within the sector are eligible for consideration, as they are not members of Eurofer and also do not conclude collective agreements. However, there are a range of employers associations within the sector that represent members on industry-specific matters. Typically, these associations are organised around companies engaged in certain forms of steel production. In brief, these include the following:

  • the British Constructional Steelwork Association (BCSA) represents companies engaged in steel works for use in the construction and civil engineering sectors. It has about 180 member companies in the steel industry, who employ around 22,000 workers. BCSA advises its members on technical, commercial, contractual and health and safety matters. It is also often consulted by the UK government on matters specific to UK producers of steel work for use in the construction and civil engineering sectors. BCSA does not conclude collective agreements;
  • the National Association of Steel Stockholders (NASS) represents the interests of steel stockholders. NASS does not conclude collective agreements;
  • the British Stainless Steel Association (BSSA) organises companies engaged in the production of stainless steel. It provides technical advice, training and education in using and working with stainless steel, and coordinates market development initiatives. BSSA also organises industry-wide events such as seminars, workshops and conferences. It is also a member of an organisation called the Metal Forum, which is consulted by the UK government on matters that affect the UK steel sector. BSSA does not conclude collective agreements;
  • the Confederation of British Metalforming (CBM) represents UK producers of fasteners, forgings and pressings. The organisation lobbies the government on sector-related matters and also provides professional support to its members. CBM does not conclude collective agreements.

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

UK Steel: Voluntary.

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

Membership domain includes steel producers, ‘first transformation steel producers’ (covering cold working production methods such as steel tube, wire or drawn bar) and hot rollers.

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

26 companies.

2b.4 Number of member companies in the sector

26 companies.

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

No information available.

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

The only figures available are for member companies that are steel makers and hot rollers. These companies employed 18,400 workers in 2006.

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)

About 90%–95%.

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

About 9%.

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

No information available.

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 information 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

No exact information is available, but if one considers the data provided for the employees in those companies that are steel makers and hot rollers, the approximate density is 28.46%.

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

No information available.

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

No.

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

UK Steel is affiliated to Eurofer and the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF).

3. Inter-associational relationships

3.1 Trade unions whose domains overlap

The domains of GMB, Unite and Community all, technically, 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?

Although the domains of all three trade unions active in the steel industry technically overlap, in practice the relations between the trade unions in the sector are characterised by cooperation rather than competition. When negotiations take place within plants, seats are distributed on the trade union side according to the membership of the unions within the plant. Furthermore, the National Steel Trade Union Coordinating Committee has been set up and involves officials from the relevant steel trade unions. This body allows trade unions within the sector to coordinate their positions accordingly, and principally concentrates on negotiations with Corus, the largest employer within the UK steel sector. Within the UK context, there are no statutory ‘rights’ for trade unions to be consulted on public policy formulation and implementation. However, in practice, UK trade unions are substantially involved in public policy matters.

There is no evidence to suggest that there is any competition between GMB, Unite and Community in terms of their actual participation in public policy in the steel sector. One episode that is worthy of comment involves two claims from the trade unions ISTC and Amicus in 2003 to be recognised for collective bargaining at a Corus site in Shotton in Flintshire in northeast Wales, under the terms of the UK legislation that guarantees UK trade unions recognition should they reach a certain threshold of representativeness. In this instance, the ISTC claim was initially accepted by the UK Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), which deals with such claims. Subsequently, however, Amicus advanced a similar claim for recognition at the site. The CAC decided that the two claims addressed an overlapping domain, and, under the terms of the relevant UK legislation, both the Amicus application and the initially accepted ISTC application were cancelled. However, this appears to be an isolated incident, and does not appear to be representative of wider disputes over the right of trade unions to conclude collective agreements within the sector.

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

Not applicable.

3.4 Same question for employer associations as 3.1

Since the only employer association eligible for consideration in this study is UK Steel, this question is not applicable.

3.5 Same question for employer associations as 3.2

Not applicable.

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?

No evidence was found of this. The majority of large companies within the sector appear willing to recognise trade unions and engage in collective bargaining.

4. The system of collective bargaining

4.1 Sector’s rate of collective bargaining coverage

About 66%.

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

There are no multi-employer sectoral agreements in the UK steel sector. All collective bargaining takes place at the level of individual plants. It appears that, in most of the large plants, collective agreements are concluded with trade unions, but it is unclear to what extent agreements are concluded at smaller plants.

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

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)

Not applicable.

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

No data available.

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?

UK Steel is consulted by the UK public authorities on various matters. Currently, the organisation is involved in environmental discussions with the UK government. Prior to formulating policy, the government typically consults UK Steel on environmental issues such as climate change agreements and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. UK Steel is also currently involved in formulating a sector-specific environmental plan with the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Apart from environmental issues, UK Steel consults with the UK government department Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) on topics such as their position on European anti-dumping cases. Furthermore, EEF, of which UK Steel is a member, is consulted by the UK government on a wide range of topics pertaining to employment, many of which affect the steel sector. In recent times, EEF has been consulted by the UK government on issues such as pensions, skills and employment law.

UK steel sector trade unions are also consulted by the UK public authorities on sector-specific matters on an ad hoc basis. This stems from the voluntarist nature of the UK system of industrial relations, which does not envisage UK trade unions having statutory rights to be consulted by the public authorities on specific matters. Steel sector trade unions have participated in a range of discussions with the UK public authorities over different matters. These include the environmental impact of the sector, the issue of job losses in the sector, the government’s position in European-level discussions about the sector and the general competitiveness of the UK steel industry.

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

No tripartite bodies exist that deal specifically with sector-specific issues. Generally, this is not a feature of the UK system of industrial relations. However, a sector skills council – Semta –was set up by the UK public authorities, which involves UK trade unions and employers developing skills within the steel sector as well as other sectors of the economy. Semta covers science, engineering and manufacturing technologies industries and involves EEF. The extent to which the sectoral trade unions are involved in the operations of Semta is unclear, but trade unions normally have at least an informal input into sector skills councils. UK Steel also works with trade unions on health and safety matters that are specific to the sector. However, this work is typically ad hoc and informal and does not have a statutory basis.

Table 2: Sector-specific public policies*
Name of body and scope of activity Bipartite/tripartite Origin: agreement/statutory Unions having representatives (reps) Employer associations having reps
Semta Bipartite Statutory No data available EEF (UK Steel)

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 within the UK steel sector. First, the steel sector, in the UK context, enjoys relatively high rates of unionisation (60%) and collective bargaining coverage (66%), compared with a the UK-wide figures of 28% and 35%, respectively. This would suggest that the UK trade union movement is relatively well placed to comment on, and be consulted on, matters pertaining to the UK steel industry. In addition, the UK steel sector is one that is characterised by low rates of participation by female workers. This would appear to be a feature of steel sectors across Europe, however, and is arguably attributable to the physically demanding nature of work within the sector. In terms of disputes over the right to be party to collective bargaining and public policy formulation, there is little evidence to suggest that there are major disputes over such issues on either side of industry. Trade unions within the sector appear to coordinate their bargaining positions without major conflict. Moreover, although there are no legally enshrined rights for social partner organisations to be consulted over the direction of public policy, when the UK public authorities consult the sectoral social partners on an ad hoc basis there is little evidence to suggest that this level of consultation leads to confrontation between the sectoral social partners over the right to be consulted.

A situation would also appear to prevail where trade unions are recognised and conclude collective agreements in larger sites, but are not in such an advantageous position in smaller sites. Another trend that characterises industrial relations within the steel sector is the very decentralised nature of collective bargaining within the sector. Collective agreements, where they exist, are concluded at plant level rather than at company or sectoral level. Although sectoral collective agreements are not the norm in the UK private sector, in many areas of the UK private sector companies conduct collective bargaining at the company or enterprise level rather than at individual plant level as is the case in the steel sector. The UK steel sector is also characterised by relative industrial peace. Despite a series of high profile strikes in previous decades, there have been no major actions in the sector in recent years. In 2007, four work stoppages involving 200 workers were recorded in NACE sectors 27 and 28 in the UK – it should be noted that these sectors, according to the general industrial classification of economic activities within the European Communities (Nomenclature générale des activités économiques dans les Communautés européennes, NACE), cover a wider sectoral demarcation than the steel sector as defined by this study. In 2006, two work stoppages occurred involving 500 workers. One notable action occurred in 2003 and involved the ISTC trade union taking action against the chemical company Johnson Matthey. In this instance, a series of one day strikes occurred over the issue of pay at the company.

On the employer side, it is worth highlighting again that there are no sectoral employer associations that engage in collective bargaining in the UK steel sector. It is thus consistent to say that employers within the sector are very loosely organised with regard to their participation in social and employment affairs. However, there are a number of employer groups within the sector that are active in relation to a number of other industry-related topics. This is the norm within the UK private sector, although EEF does engage in collective bargaining in the UK engineering sector.

Thomas Prosser, IRRU, University of Warwick

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