A new bargain: people, productivity and prosperity

The UK has a productivity and prosperity problem. The country languishes at the bottom of productivity indices with employees working longer but producing less. At the same time pay has fallen or stagnated for many as the economy has failed to create and share income and assets. Lessons from other higher performing and advanced economies show a clearer pattern of employee engagement and a fairer distribution of prosperity. In this context, there is a renewed role for unions as workplace representatives, and for new forms of employee voice and collective bargaining. Rethinking union models provides challenges, particularly within the Conservative Party, as unions have often been viewed in political not economic terms. Yet, what often goes unrecognised is that workplace and productivity improvement are the key focuses of union activity. This paper calls for a new approach to forge a consensus between government, industry and employees on the nature of work in a productive economy. This ‘New Bargain’ would establish a rejuvenated role for people in collective bargaining and provide a way to address productivity, pay and workplace change. We recommend that employees should have new powers to be consulted on change, efficiency and fairness in the workplace. We propose a new ‘Workforce Yellow or Red Card’ warning system addressing issues like the Carillion collapse; employee voice deals for non-oppositional bargaining; lifelong learning banks to support workforce skills and development; and an increase in employee ownership to help drive productivity and share prosperity.

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