Government cannot - and will not - legislate the recognition of trades unions into existence. The fate of the trades union movement lies in their ability to demonstrate to both employees and employers that they add value, said competition and consumer affairs minister Jonathan Evans today.
And he criticised the prescriptive approach taken to employee involvement by the European Works Councils Directive.
Speaking at the Union Management Relations Conference in London, Mr Evans said:
'But there is no one way of achieving employee involvement. No quick fix that will suit every business. That is why the government rejects simplistic and rigid legal provisions on employee involvement - the European Works Councils Directive or the TUC's proposals for compulsory consultation or union recognition.
'British companies have developed a myriad of different ways of involving employees. They range from simple and traditional forms of information and consultation such as newsletters and suggestion schemes, through team work and quality initiatives to company videos, electronic mail and financial participation through share schemes and profit related pay. That these schemes are entirely voluntary is an important factor in their success. People are inevitably more committed to solutions they have worked out for themselves than to something imposed by government.
'The TUC still bemoans the lack of legal compulsion on employers to recognise unions. But if trades unions want to be taken seriously and respected they should be prepared to earn that respect by their own efforts, not plead with government to try to legislate it into existence.
'The evidence of falling recognition and of the decline of collective bargaining shows that increasingly employers feel that some unions have nothing to offer. And the evidence of falling membership - from 13 million in 1979 to eight and a half million today shows that many workers feel the same.
'Trades unions need to offer a package which employers find attractive: a sensible and effective disputes procedure which will minimise disruption; a positive attitude to the changes required to respond in a competitive business environment; a fair and realistic approach to bargaining on terms and conditions. It is the same with employees. Trades unions can perform a very valuable function in assisting and representing their members in individual as well as collective matters. But individuals very often fail to see those benefits. That can only be because they do not see unions as meeting their needs - or because unions fail to market themselves effectively.
'Relations between employers and employees were once a British disaster. They are now a resounding success. I am confident that with positive attitudes from both unions and management we can do even better.'