The 1984 Trade Union Act provided some consolation for the unions by giving them some immunity against lawsuits (under certain conditions). However, the Employment Act of 1988 handed more power in the hands of the employers by virtually putting an end to the concept of “closed shop protests”. It also eliminated all legal immunity for industrial action taken by the union to compel an employer to create or maintain any sort of closed shop practice.
The 1990 Employment Act inflicted further damages to the already weakened unions by “making a union legally liable when it takes action against any customer or supplier of the employer with whom it is in dispute”. Finally, the act enables employers to selectively fire workers who take industrial action without union authorization.
“The results of this legislative onslaught on the trade union movement have undoubtedly been profound. Although it is difficult to disentangle the effects of the new laws (which have tended to reduce the benefits of union membership to individual workers) from those resulting from structural economic change, the fact remains that between 1979 and 1992, union density fell dramatically from almost 60% to 45%… the decline in union membership has nevertheless played a major part in altering the balance of power in the industrial relations arena, over and above the direct impact of the legislation itself.” (Healey, Nigel M., p.292)
The government’s so called reform initiatives had reduced union density and strike rates, although they were projected as measures toward “increasing the flexibility of the labour market and thereby strengthening the underlying performance of the economy”. The rationale behind such harsh laws against the working class was that the latter was making unreasonable claims for wages and protesting the introduction of new technology into production as it threatened their jobs. These claims for creating those tough laws are only superficially true. The underlying issues are quite complex and requires a more rigorous analysis, which the authorities seem unwilling to undertake. On the whole the legislative ‘reform’, had commoditized human beings, supposedly to help the powerful employers to buy and sell labour amongst each other more easily. ((Farnham, David, and Lesley Giles., p.18)
Britain compares poorly in the measure of human capital acquisition with other European economies. British firms have now been understaffed for years, affecting their ability to compete internationally and constraining their recruitment process as well. The region also has the lowest number of youth in higher education programmes, compared to the rest of the continent. (Marlow, Sue., p.95)
A more accurate explanation for anti-worker legislation is that it has allowed corporations to optimize methods of production, which result in short term increase in productivity as some of the redundancies (including human redundancies) were scrapped. However, there is a price to pay for this short-sightedness, which most corporations don’t seem to understand. (Healey, Nigel M., p.292)
Although these government measures have fetched them electoral success, there is no denying the fact that permanent damage had been inflicted upon the workers and their unions, making any significant repeals of the legislation unlikely. One could see the flaw in the Government’s argument that “worker unions cause unemployment by |pricing their members out of jobs”, as the demands of the latter are simply to compensate for the inflation and cost-of-living increases. The state of the internal labour market is also left in shambles. (Farnham, David, and Lesley Giles., p.17)