Labouring in the public interest.
LSE law, society and economy working papers,
Department of Law, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.
Part of the difficulty in public sector labour relations is the apparently inevitable confrontation between government and civil service unions. This idea is sketched out here with particular attention to the inherently political nature of public sector education in England and Canada. Of the many characteristics of public sector labour relations, governments’ dual role as employer and legislator remains the most distinctive. It provides an advantage which governing parties in both jurisdictions have used to their singular benefit. This power is also the source of limitations within the public sector labour relations framework. With little recourse via the law (grievances, legislation), teachers’ unions have taken their message to the public in an attempt to improve their leverage in negotiations with government. Developing in the late 20th century, public campaigns have been a favoured means for highlighting issues which fit under the broad catchphrase of protecting quality in public education. Conversely, government may also implement its own rebuttal campaign based on the need for financial restraint. As part of this contest, both sides invoke the threat of public outcry as a force which each claims it may muster, for the purpose of maximising its bargaining position. This is the framework of contemporary public sector education collective negotiations. In effect, modern day public sector education bargaining has become the means of retrenchment: government, in a centralised funding arrangement such as that in England and Ontario, allocates money and dictates the terms of employment.
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