What Is Collective Bargaining?

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There are numerous theoretical approaches which attempt to define the term “collective bargaining”. The contributions are mainly pluralist in nature and propose the idea that collective bargaining is a necessary and desired activity for resolving conflict arising from the inequality in bargaining power between the ‘strong’ employer and the ‘weak’ employee [1, 2]. Trade unions are able to overcome this predicament by functioning as a third-party intervention, thus allowing the employees’ views to be lawfully voiced by negotiating with management. The primary approaches of collective bargaining are proposed by Beatrice and Sidney Webb (1902), Flanders (1968) and Chamberlain & Kuhn (1965) [1].

Beatrice and Sidney Webb (1902) proposed the initial ‘economic’ theory. The Webbs contrasted collective bargaining to individual bargaining, stating that rather than individually selling their labour services, a “group of workmen” collaboratively request a representative(s) to conduct the bargaining on behalf of the party, thus introducing a “collective will” [1].The Webbs regarded collective bargaining as an economical procedure, enabling employees to control competition within the group and retain secure terms of employment [1]. According to the Webbs, there was a positive correlation between the size of the bargaining unit and the advantage secured by the union and employees in question, i.e. the increase of one co-variable triggered an increase in the other [2].

However, Flanders (1968) heavily criticised this reductionist approach by proposing the idea that individual and collective bargaining were not comparable, i.e. the term is not a “collective equivalent and alternative to individual bargaining” [1]. Individual bargaining refers to a committed, legal agreement between the employer and the employee in exchange of labour for money, whereas collective bargaining focuses on the accordance of employment conditions with the terms and agreements after the labour...
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