Employee Relations in the Public Services: Themes and Issues

Employee Relations in the Public Services: Themes and Issues

Employee Relations in the Public Services: Themes and Issues

Employee Relations in the Public Services: Themes and Issues

Synopsis

Tracing the main developments in the public sector since 1979, this book includes issues such as the rise of Thatcherism, decentralization, contracting out, quality and flexibility, and equal opportunity.

Excerpt

The public services are those public sector organisations providing public goods to citizens, excluding the public corporations. The main UK public services are central and local government, health care, education, the police, fire services and the armed forces and their employee relations have always differed from those in the private sector. This difference does not relate primarily to the absence of profit, a characteristic the public service sector shares with the private ‘not for profit’ sector, although clearly this limits the resources and strategies of both types of organisations. Nor does it relate to the greater strength of trade unions and collective bargaining in most of the public services compared with the private sector, because this has not always been the case and in some public services, i.e. the police and the armed forces, trade unions are outlawed. The difference is that, unlike the private sector, the fabric of public service employee relations is shot through with the all-important dimension of political power. As Storey has commented, the dilemmas for public sector managers ‘derive . . . from the inherently political nature of the values and objectives which must inescapably govern the direction taken’ (Storey 1992a: 55).

We start from Storey’s proposition. Public service employee relations are different from those in the private sector because of the overarching importance of the political dimension and hence require separate detailed description and analysis. We begin by considering in depth the distinguishing characteristics of the employment relationship in the public services but, because today’s public services do not exist in a vacuum, we then examine the context. Accordingly, we trace the historical development of employee relations in the public services and show how they have been affected from the 1980s by neo-classical economics and new public management. This has led to major changes in organisational structures and occupational composition. Next we discuss the issues posed in the book and the themes and trends common to many of the aspects of the employment relationship in the public services: the public/private sector boundary; decentralisation; flexibility; the erosion of collectivism and the decline of the public service ethos. Finally, we consider the implications of the election of a new Labour government in 1997.

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