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Employee relations are concerned with generally managing the employment relationship and developing a positive psychological contract. In particular, they deal with terms and conditions of employment, issues arising from employment, providing employees with a voice, and communicating with employees. Employees are dealt with either directly or through collective agreements where trade unions are recognized.
Employee relations cover a wider spectrum of the employment relationship than industrial relations, which are essentially about what goes on between management and trade union representatives and officials. The wider definition of employee relations recognizes the move away from collectivism towards individualism in the ways in which employees relate to their employers. The concepts of joint control and rule-making belong to a historical era. To a large extent, especially in the private sector, employers are in charge. Union membership has gone down in the United Kingdom from a peak of some 12 million to around 7 million today, largely for structural reasons – the decline of large manufacturing firms and the rise in the service industries, and the growing numbers of part-time workers. Between 1980 and 2000 the coverage of collective agreements contracted from over three-quarters to under a third of the workforce. There has been a dramatic reduction in industrial action.
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