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CEP discussion paper
Trading Places: Employers, Unions and the Manufacture of Voice
Alex Bryson, Rafael Gomez and P Willman
August 2008
Paper No' CEPDP0884:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: J5; J51; J52; J53; L25; M54

Tags: worker voice; trade unions; quits; employment relations; labour productivity; financial performance; industrial action

Using nationally representative workplace data for Britain we show that over the last quarter century union voice – especially union-only voice – has been associated with poorer climate, more industrial action, poorer financial performance and poorer labour productivity than nonunion voice and, in particular, direct voice. On the other hand, union-based voice regimes have experienced lower quit rates than non-union and “no voice” regimes, as theory predicts. Over that time, while the workplace incidence of voice has remained constant, with roughly 8 workplaces out of 10 providing some form of voice, there has been a big shift from union to non-union voice, particularly direct employer-made voice. Thus employers are prepared generally to bear the costs of voice provision and manifest a reluctance to engage with their workforce without voice mechanisms in place. The associations between non-union voice mechanisms and desirable workplace outcomes suggest that these costs may be lower than the benefits voice generates.