Industrial democracy

Assa Abloy workers on strike for a better deal

Industrial democracy can simply be understood as workers having a voice. Having industrial democracy means giving workers the genuine and real ability to influence decisions at work, in their industries, and in government by re-balancing the power between workers and employers.

As the International Labour Organisation puts it, industrial democracy is “an ideal in which citizenship rights in employment are held to include partial or complete participation by the workforce in the running of an industrial or commercial organisation.”

It can be achieved through a combination of:

  • strong unions
  • good delegate structures
  • legal rights for workplace consultative committees
  • rights for workers to receive information and participate in consultation
  • legal rights for board level representation
  • collective bargaining at the industry and company levels, and
  • the ability to influence government decision making.

‘Workers’ voice’ is one of the four pillars of the E tū Decent Work Charter.

Industrial democracy in Aotearoa can be improved with a variety of tools, the best of which rebalance the power between workers and employers.

Information sharing and consultation with workers are industrial democracy tools that encourage or require employers to engage with their employees. In Europe, most workers have the legal right to establish a consultative committee at work, funded by the employer (called Works Councils), which means employers must allow workers to be a part of important decision making that affects the workplace.

The effectiveness of industrial democracy depends on how genuine the consultation is and whether workers’ input has a real impact on the outcomes, beyond simple participation.
‘Co-determination’ or joint decision making is a form of industrial democracy that re-balances the power between workers and employers.

It provides strong legal rights for union representation, through bargaining at the industry and company level, through workplace consultation, and through workers’ representation within the company such as through the boards of directors.

European countries with strong industrial democracy provisions for their workers that enable co-determination also do well in other areas, such as productivity in the economy, social justice, and quality jobs.

Workers should have a voice!

E tū aviation delegate Jo O’Leary says…

I feel industrial democracy in the workplace is vital to achieving good outcomes for both the employee and employer. Being part of a union gives workers a platform to really get their voices heard. In aviation, we’ve seen that when we work collaboratively we all win. However, at the moment things feel a little lopsided and less democratic. We are experiencing rapid growth while rebuilding the sector, and employers need to realise we’d see better results if we worked closer with each other.