The problem of immigrant workers in the UK:
In spite of the UK gaining a reputation for its cosmopolitan demography, the issues of race and ethnicity have not been superseded. With the formation of the European Union and the attendant flux of immigrants from the Continent, British cosmopolitanism is met with an unprecedented challenge. Despite scholarship and research studies suggesting the contrary, the mainstream media seems bent on perpetrating xenophobic fears among the native population. The media portrays Eastern European workers in a particularly unfair way. For example, despite statistics from government agencies showing that “Britain has accommodated the huge influx with comparatively few real, as distinct from perceived problems–and crime has actually fallen in England and Wales by 9% in the past recorded year”, newspapers carry disproportionately high reports on petty crimes committed by Eastern European workers. It is true that the erstwhile communist bloc countries of Eastern Europe have low literacy levels and that they come to Britain in search of low-paying manual work (Biney, 2008). But the British media has unfairly extrapolated the low socio-economic profile of these ethnic groups to indicate criminal tendencies. Hence, the stereotypical image of Eastern European workers as dependant on government welfare and depleting available jobs for British citizens is not only untrue but also undermines their collective voice and bargaining powers with their employers (Biney, 2008). Situations such as these show that the current forms of employee involvement do not transfer any real decision-making powers away from managers and hence calls for incorporating employee voice in the decision making process.
Similarly, some critics have asserted that major organizations such as BBC are systematically biased in favour of Christianity and against Islam. This assessment was prompted by the public broadcaster’s dress code policy for newsreaders. According to Mark Thompson, the former Director General of the BBC, “the BBC does not object to newsreaders wearing small religious symbols, whether crosses, crescents or Stars of David. But we do not believe it would be appropriate for a newsreader to wear a veil over the face, not because we favour one religion over another but because we believe it would distract from the presentation of the news” (Thompson, 2006). To be fair to the BBC, the criticisms of ethno-religious bias in this case does seem far-fetched. But such instances are exceptions rather than the rule. But the fact of the matter is that, in the absence of trade unions and collective bargaining structures within the BBC, the management has failed to ensure that employees have the ability to communicate with and influence management decisions. (Healey, Nigel M., p.292)
The decline in legal protections for collective employee voice:
The United Kingdom, with a history of voluntarism in industrial relations, is quite singular amongst economically developed nations in not always having a legal means through which workers can attain union membership. Nor did the union members care seeking for a mechanism. In general, “they felt strong enough to do without legal support. Moreover, the unions feared that legal intervention would open the flood gates for intervention in other areas” (Kessler, Sid., p.56). To give a bit of historical context,
“The Conservative government had instituted varied legislative reforms in the labour market since 1979 with the aim of increasing the resilience of the labour market for the improvement of UK’s economic performance. However, such reforms contributed to the massive decline in the labour union memberships. This altered the balance of power within the realms of industrial relations in favour of the business owners and entrepreneurs. Worst, the reforms fostered the commodity mentality among business entrepreneurs which could, in the long run, prove disadvantageous for UK’s economic viability.” (Kessler, Sid., p.62)
The above mentioned forewarning is proving to be true. The amount of power that corporations can wield over governments and their policies to achieve their economic bottom-lines can be learnt from the fact that since 1979, numerous statutes were placed to constrain trade union activity. This is a clear case of victims being perceived as the victimizers. The statutes restrict unions from organizing strikes and deny them the right to enforce a closed shop. With such drastic weakening of power and legitimacy of trade unions, employees today have less of a voice in the affairs of their company than what they were entitled to three decades back. It also shows that the prevailing forms of employee ‘participation’ and ‘involvement’ are token measures at best and do not transfer any real decision-making powers away from managers. Hence there is a legitimate case to be made for enhancing employee voice within the organization through legal protections. (Farnham, David, and Lesley Giles., p.13)