Securing a decent deal for workers
Employee representatives on boards
There has been a significant decline in democracy in the workplace; brought about by decades of decimation of the trade union movement, the employment rights of the people it represents, and the collective bargaining structures established to ensure a collective voice at work. This paper examines the concept of workplace democracy, and focuses in particular on the inclusion of employee representatives on company boards. It is clear that employees must be given a stronger voice in the strategic direction of our businesses.
This think piece draws on interviews conducted in Sweden, where the practice of having workers on boards has existed since the 1970s, with trade unions, trade union elected worker directors, and managerial representatives. The evidence strongly suggests that this system is beneficial to all involved: employees are able to present issues at board level; trade unions form better working relationships with management; and boards benefit from the expertise of employees working on the shop floor.
The conclusions drawn from the interviews in Sweden show that this has been an extremely successful piece of legislation. However, as Swedish corporate law differs from UK law, it would not be directly transferable. I therefore propose a pilot scheme, set up by a future Labour Government, in which companies are able to implement some form of workplace democracy that would be appropriate to the UK system. If successful, which I believe it would be, their experiences would feed into the development of legislation on this in the UK.
I believe we have reached a decisive moment, with public opinion turning against companies that exploit their workers. With some cross-party consensus on the inclusion of employee representatives on company boards, there is now scope to re-open some of the discussions around this issue that took place in the 1970s. As a proud trade unionist, I do not want to see another generation believing that zero hour contracts and poor workplace rights are the norm of working life. We need a change, and I believe this more cooperative approach between management and employees is the way forward.