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 United Kingdom

Key Facts

Population63,256,141
Collective Bargaining Coverage 29%
Proportion of Employees in Unions 26%
Principal Level of Collective Bargaining

company

Workplace Representation

union – but other structures are possible and since 2005 these can be triggered by employees

Board-level Representation

no

Company Board Structure

monistic

Sources: see individual country sections; where a range of figures has been quoted, the lower number has been taken

Trade Unions

At present just under a quarter (23.5%) of UK employees are union members, although union density is much higher in the public sector (52%) than the private sector (13%). There is only one union confederation in the UK, the TUC, and individual unions are fully independent. More than half of trade unionists in the TUC are in the three largest unions, which have grown through mergers.

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Collective Bargaining

Only a minority of employees in the UK are covered by collective bargaining, with private sector employees, where the key bargaining level is the company or the workplace, much less likely to be covered than those working in the public sector, where industry level bargaining is more important.

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Workplace Representation

There is no common structure for employee representation in the UK and in many workplaces it does not exist. Unions are the most common way that employees are represented, and since 1999 they have been legally able to compel employers to deal with them, but only if they have sufficient support. Most non-union workplaces have no employee representation, and the regulations implementing the EU directive on information and consultation have only had a limited impact.

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Board-level Representation

UK employees have no statutory right to representation at board level. However, following a revision of the UK Corporate Governance Code, which came into effect in 2019, employee directors are a specified option for listed companies, and there are now a handful of employee representatives at board level.

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European-level Representation

UK representatives on most of the bodies linked to European Works Councils and the European Company are to be elected by the whole workforce, unless there is an existing body which represents and in some cases has already been elected by the whole workforce, which then has appointment rights. But the UK government has chosen not to draw up specific rules on the choice of UK members of some of the European Company structures, leaving the choice to lower level representative bodies.

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Health and Safety Representation

 

In workplaces where they negotiate with the employer, unions have the right to appoint safety representatives to represent the interests of employees in the area of health and safety. In non-union workplaces the employer decides whether employee representatives for health and safety should be elected, or alternatively whether employees should be consulted directly. Non-union health and safety representatives have fewer powers than those appointed by the union, as they cannot undertake workplace inspections. Union safety representatives, but not non-union ones, can also require the employer to set up a safety committee.

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Financial Participation

The first employee financial participation schemes were not introduced into Great Britain until the end of the 1970s. The Labour Party, employer associates and trade unions were united in their opposition to any form of employee financial participation up till the end of the 1970s. By contrast, the Liberal Party, later followed by the Conservatives, lobbied for profit-sharing and employee share ownership in companies and were finally successful in winning over their erstwhile opponents. Since then a number of different employee financial participation schemes have developed.

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