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Acas: trade unions are still valuable and powerful in workplaces

Despite the historical decline in membership levels, trade unions are still a valuable and powerful force in today’s workplaces according to a paper published today by Acas.

In the future they need to continue to respond and adapt to the challenges ahead if they are to have a strong presence. Trade unions will have to broaden their appeal in the face of declining membership, particularly amongst the young, according to the paper's author.

The discussion paper What role for trade unions in future workplace relations? written by Chris F. Wright, Research Fellow at the Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge is published at today's Acas/TUC fringe meeting which sees key speakers, including Acas' chief conciliator Peter Harwood, debate the future for collective employment relations. The paper argues that unions are responding to the changes in the workplace by adapting and focusing on a range of strategies including: organising, workplace learning and influencing supply chain and procurement practices, and alliances with civil society organisations. The paper examines:

  • Trends in union membership
  • Opportunities and challenges facing unions
  • Union responses to labour market fragmentation
  • Revitalisation strategies
  • Likely future role of unions in British workplaces and employment relations

Ed Sweeney (pictured), Acas chair said: "Acas has over 35 years experience of working with employers and employees and their representatives. Unions, in our experience, can provide a vital role in giving workers a voice in the workplace and in promoting a productive and engaged workforce.

"We hope that this paper will stimulate an interesting debate on the role of trade unions in what is a rapidly changing workplace environment."

The paper is one of a series of discussion papers commissioned by Acas to examine and provoke debate about the future of workplace relations. It follows a publication in August 2011, which addressed the challenges ahead for the public sector.

Future papers in the series will cover migrant workers, health and wellbeing, outsourcing, age, mutualism and employee voice.