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Partnership Working Briefing No 8


Partnership working is the Government's preferred model of industrial relations. It has been personally promoted by the Prime Minister and is supported financially through the DTI Partnership at Work Fund. It also has a wider political context. Whilst the Tories promoted competition as the solution to all the country's problems the current

Government's credo is partnership. In Scotland this has a particular significance as we have a partnership government.

This briefing looks at partnership working as an industrial relations structure to assist branches who are considering or responding to partnership initiatives.

What is Partnership working?:

There is no one model of partnership working. Partnership agreements range from little more than traditional recognition agreements up to arrangements which seek to radically change the culture of the way managers and staff relate in the workplace. In essence partnership seeks to change industrial relations from an adversarial and confrontational system to one which promotes greater co-operation and involvement.

In the private sector partnership agreements usually focus on a trade off between greater workforce flexibility in return for guarantees on job security. There is also a greater focus on business issues in the bargaining structures in an effort to engage the workforce in promoting the success of the company. In the public sector partnership agreements cover these issues but with a greater emphasis on service change. This is achieved through a commitment to early consultation.

In a traditional industrial relations structure management prepare their proposal in some detail and present it to the trade unions. There is a period of consultation followed by negotiation (if terms and conditions changes are involved) concluding (usually!) in an agreement.

In a partnership agreement the key difference is involvement at an earlier formulation stage. Instead of coming to the trade unions with a firm proposal management come with an outline of the issue enabling the trade unions to influence the shape of the proposal before it becomes too fixed. The unions also have a greater role both in implementing and evaluating the changes.


Partnership working is not an industrial relations panacea. It creates many challenges for branches including:

  • Attempts to undermine collective bargaining under the guise of partnership working
  • A partnership agreement will not change management style overnight
  • It is more complex and time consuming than traditional bargaining/consultation
  • Can confuse trade union and management roles in the mind of members
  • Requires well trained representatives who have a good understanding of the service/business


Equally partnership working can create real opportunities including:

  • Influencing business/service change at an early stage before proposals become fixed
  • Improved access to information
  • Promoting a wider bargaining agenda including training and job security
  • Changing management behaviour from a directive to a more participative, coaching style
  • Promotes the relevance and role of trade unions in the workplace


Branches considering or responding to a management initiative on partnership working should:

  • Define the purpose of the agreement, common goals and recognise that management and workers can have some different goals and objectives.
  • Identify the benefits and the risks
  • Create robust collective partnership structures
  • Ensure that there is senior level commitment on both sides
  • Establish joint training for managers and stewards
  • Get agreement that resources including facility time are provided


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