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The Employment Deal in 2020: dodging the nightmare scenario?

Authors: Dr Benjamin Reid Benjamin Reid

08 July 2010

On Tuesday night the Work Foundation launched a major new report examining the future of people management employment relationship, as part of its on-going, two-year Future of HR programme.

Drawing on the collected expertise or more than 30 eminent experts in the field of work, employment and people management, the research behind the report develops a number of evidence-based potential scenarios for the employment deal in 2020. It then identifies the implications for people management practice and public policy for each of those scenarios.

The scenarios – a ‘status quo’ baseline; a world of heightened globalisation; an ‘eco-centric’ model, and a disturbing cut-throat ‘tribal’ scenario for the employment deal – offer different kinds of challenges to people managers and public policy makers.

Speaking at the report launch, Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, Kay Carberry, TUC Assistant General Secretary, and Will Hutton, Work Foundation Executive Vice Chair, each offered responses to the ‘challenges’ laid down by the report’s scenarios.

Lord Freud indicated how he believed the Coalition’s welfare to work policies would ameliorate some of the scenarios’ predictions of an increased minority of very long-term employment, and increasing inequality. He suggested that a much greater focus on welfare to work programmes which pay private and voluntary for outcomes - ‘black boxing’ the process to encourage innovation – allied with simplification of the benefits system so that working always pays, will help ensure a better employment deal in the UK in the future.

Describing the report as ‘fantastic, dense, and rich’, Kay Carberry highlighted what she saw as the dangers of unbridled and indiscriminate cuts on viable businesses and on the workforce, noting the risk she felt the Coalition was taking assuming the private sector could fill the jobs gap created by public sector layoffs. She suggested that increased employee ‘voice’ in organisations, a greater focus on skills development, and an emphasis on the quality of the employment relationship – in all of which unions could play a stronger and more prominent role – could ward off some of the scenarios’ more dire predictions.

Will Hutton noted that all the report’s scenarios indicated an increasing turbulent and contested world within which individuals, employers and governments would negotiate the employment deal for the future. How, he asked, will we achieve a labour market which is structured to navigate these turbulent times? He suggested that a move from unemployment benefits to increased levels of unemployment insurance, and greater funds committed by public and private sectors to employee life-long learning, were central to maintaining a fair employment deal for the majority.

Overall the report, and the launch responses, indicate clearly that we cannot in good conscience sleepwalk into the future of the employment deal, assuming continuation of the status quo. Rather, in concert, public policy makers, unions, associations, employers and employees need to develop clear visions of what is driving changes to the employment deal, and how best these changes and challenges can be met to result in a fair, prosperous and sustainable deal for UK employers and employees alike.

 

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