Trade unions are formal associations of workers with the aim of improving the working conditions and general lives of the member workers. The trade unions bank on the law of large numbers to acquire bargaining power against their employers (Towers 2004, p. 52). Many countries have laws governing trade unions which specify memberships and the roles of the trade unions. Trade unions have tried much in improving the working conditions of workers but a lot still needs to be done. They have played a major role in the improvement of the working conditions of employees. However, trade unions have been losing popularity with employees over the last decades du to some of the challenges the unions face (International Labour Organization 2001, p. 43).
Some of the challenges that trade unions face that have made them not to be effective are membership crises, globalization among others. Globalization has emerged to be the major causes of challenges that trade unions face because it has made trade unions seem to be outdated to the worker. There has also been replacement of public property with personal property and technological changes which pose great challenges to trade unions (Campling and Gollan 1999, p. 83). Globalization has made it hard for trade unions to represent their employees due to existence of different working conditions in different countries and also different economic conditions in different countries.
Other challenges have been declining membership, changes in economic conditions, new regulations and political interference. There have been changes in the composition of membership, with emergence of women in the workforce and more dynamic work groups as opposed to the traditional formal employment and white collar jobs (Singh 2009. P. 104). This makes in necessary for the trade unions to change their scope and approach to the defense activities for their members.
Due to the challenges the trade unions face, they must adopt new methods of employee representation in order to remain relevant and effective (Wikinson, Gollan and Marchington 2010, p. 54). Trade unions have realized this and they have formulated future strategies to represent their members. Other strategies to ensure that the trade unions remain helpful and relevant are also in the pipeline. We will look at some of the strategies available to trade unions to ensure effective future representation.
STRATEGIES AVAILABLE TO TRADE UNIONS IN TERMS OF FUTURE EMPLOYEE REPRESENTATION
There are many strategies available to trade unions in terms of future employee representation (Wood 2006, p. 45). One strategy is the enlargement of the scope and agenda of the trade unions. The current scope of trade unions is quite limited and does not address the globalization issue. The scope could be enlarged to include working together with international labor organizations because this will enhance their bargaining power across borders. A close relationship with other international organizations like the International monetary Fund (IMF) AND World Health Organization (WHO) is also desirable since it will promote a globalization that supports trade unions (International Labour Organization, 2001 p. 67). These international organizations can help pressurizing employers to conform to labor laws and better working conditions.
The trade unions can adopt a global outlook where the unions are coordinated at the national and international levels. This will make the trade unions to deal effectively with the growing pressure from the private sector and reduced labor legislation in many countries. Therefore, the trade unions should replace the traditional local coordination with international and transnational coordination. Trade unions can also make use of international Framework Agreements in order to formulate the labor laws for multinational companies. These will be effective tools in pressurizing international companies to conform to labour laws (Dimitroval 2005).
The trade unions can also use the concept of value chains and value creation as a strategy to enhance representation of members in the future. They could use production systems and value chain concepts to deal with harsh working conditions (Gardner and Palmer 1997, p. 103). The trade unions should analyze critically the value chains and bargain at the most crucial stage of the value addition process because at this stage they get maximum benefits. At the crucial points of the value chain, companies are very protective hence any employee concerns raised at these stages are quickly addressed.
Political interference is one of the challenges facing trade unions. This has compromised leaders of trade unions hence making the trade unions less effective. A strategy available to trade unions to make them more efficient is avoidance of political activities (Towers 1997, p. 68). Trade unions should restrain themselves from political activities and confine themselves to defense of workers rights. This would make them remain focused to their roles hence be efficient and effective.
Trade unions should understand that a negative relationship with employers is not the way to fight for employee’s rights (Kidner 1980, p. 167). The unions can thus use a good relationship with the employers as a strategy to bargain for the workers in the future. This is because bargaining with the employers from as friends will make the trade unions to save on resources and also to get the best for their employees. Cooperation between different trade unions would also save on resources and increase the bargaining power of the trade unions.
Another old abut effective strategy is the membership campaigns by the trade unions. Over the past, membership campaigns have not been effective due to legal limitations of the scopes of trade unions non liberal political climates. With the emergence of political space and democracy, trade unions can improve on this policy and multiply the numbers of their members. The trade unions should address various categories of workers such as those in the private sector. This will increase the bargaining power of the trade unions.
A simple strategy available to the trade unions would be improvement in service delivery to members. This would make more people want to join the trade unions and also ensure that members remain strong in the unions. The unions could be active in protection of employment of members, improvement of working conditions, securing social security for members, training and career development for members and provision of best legal and advisory services (Freeman and Medoff, 1984, p. 143). This will not only make the members loyal to the unions but also make them effective in their role.
Trade unions can also build on build on public image and use it as a strategy to fight for the members rights. The trade unions can ensure that they are directly involve with the development of the community since they are involved in production and distribution of goods and services to the community. They also have experience and resources needed to develop the community. The trade unions should avoid public issues in which the interests of workers conflict with the interests of the society since this would cause a conflict with the public. Taking the public on board of trade union’s activities can increase their effectiveness (Thiekell and Vickerstaff 2000, p. 34).
To be able to address employee issues efficiently and effectively, trade unions need to change their structures. Some changes would be decentralization of the activities of the trade unions, assessing financial viability of the unions’ activities and centralization of strategic union activities. Decentralization of union activities in necessitated by the break down of the production processes into different stages. Employees in each and every stage should have their unit for defending their rights (Towers 2004, p. 65). This will be effective since the union unit will be able to focus on the issues of that particular group hence dealing with them adequately. Some employee concerns are also very specific hence they can not be addressed in the consolidated level of the trade union.
Another strategy available to trade unions is use of trained and professional unionists to manage the trade unions as opposed to the traditional setting where anybody could run the trade unions (International Labour Organization 2001, p. 45). Professional running of the unions could be attained by making sure that the unions are under the directorship of people who are adequately trained and experienced in labour matters. All the board members of the trade unions should be adequately trained and they should attend regular seminars and refresher courses. This will ensure that the board members are up to date with labour requirements and related changes.
There has been increasing awareness of the importance of recruitment of women in companies hence nowadays the women are making a good proportion of the workforce (International Labour Organization 2001, p. 43). Men are no longer the main breadwinners for families; women are actively participating in economic activities globally. From this, trade unions could carve out strategies to incorporate and promote women employment. This would increase the membership to the trade unions because of capturing the growing population of women in the formal and informal workforce (Dimitroval 2005, p. 29).
Research is a major tool for trade unions since it avails information for use in decision making and formulation of policies. Research could therefore be used by the trade unions as a research. For instance, trade unions could research on the economic conditions, financial crisis and factors of production to determine whether the pay given to the employees is fair depending on the economic conditions prevailing (Blanpain, Dickens and Anderson 2008, p. 79). With this research information, the trade union will be able to bargain for the best results of the members. Trade unions could take an active role in mitigating for global financial and economic crises and helping the economy out of the crises. This would benefit the members by creating employment hence increase in numbers and also improving the economic working environment for the members.
The trade unions should come up with strategies to help representation of minority groups such as the disabled. Some of the strategies available to ensure this can be grouped into total inclusion strategy, partial inclusion strategy and exclusion strategy (Singh 2009, p. 73). The total inclusion strategy aims to defend the rights of the minority workers just as the other workers while the partial inclusion strategy seeks to place the minority workers in a secondary place to that of other workers. The exclusion strategy means excluding minority workers from union activities. The choice of each strategy will depend on the effects it has to the overall effectiveness of the trade union. The strategy is highly dictated by the motivation of trade unions to represent the minority groups.
Worker participation in the activities of the trade unions is also a strategy that could be used by the trade unions in terms of future employee representation. The workers should be incorporated in the monitoring of the economic environment, gathering of information, carrying out investigations, making major decisions and implementation activities of the trade unions. This will make workers to feel a sense of belonging to the unions hence be very active in the affairs of the union. This will strengthen the union and increase the bargaining power of the union. Employee incorporation could also be promoted by the dissemination and sharing of information by trade unions and the members. This could be done by use of websites, books, periodicals and magazines and also seminars which should be rich in content (Kidner 1980, p. 54).
The workplace is dynamic and so the operation of trade unions. Trade unions find themselves exposed to new challenges every single day due to the emerging trends and issues. Some of these issues are changes in economic conditions, change in the employee composition, legal framework changes and other social trends like immigration among others. Due to these challenges and emerging strategies, the unions need to position themselves strategically to remain relevant and be able to defend the rights of the employees.
To remain relevant, the unions should keep up with the changes and to do this they first need to understand the changes well. Most of the available strategies to trade unions are based on understanding the trends and positioning to keep up with the changes. The strategies that could be used are therefore adoption of an international outlook for the trade unions, incorporation of employees in the activities of the trade unions, being involved in research among other strategies. Some of these strategies discussed are already in use while others are research proposals which could be considered by the trade unions.