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Legal Regulation and the Changing Workplace

Linda Dickens and Mark Hall in W. Brown, A. Bryson, J. Forth and K. Whitfield, (eds)
The Evolution of the Modern Workplace  Cambridge University Press, 332-352


This chapter appears in an edited volume which discusses different aspects of employment change in Britain as revealed by five major workplace employment relations surveys (WIRS/WERS) conducted regularly since 1980. The chapter discusses the relationship between legal regulation and industrial relations, tracing a trajectory from legal abstention under the traditional British voluntary system which existed before the first WIRS survey, to juridification. It discusses the use and nature of law under different administrations pre and post 1997 and seeks to assess how the substantial changes in the State’s use of the law shaped the evolution of the modern British workplace. While emphasising that statute law is only one factor in accounting for the changes outlined by other contributors to the volume, Dickens and Hall provide a nuanced account of how and where legislation has played a role (for example in the individualization of employment relations in the 1979-1997 period).  They give some examples of direct impact but show that in some areas the role played by legislation may be symbolic or rely on the ‘shadow effect’ of law more than its actual use in practice. Dickens and Hall note that establishing a direct link between legal regulation and changes in procedures and espoused policies to comply with legislative requirements (as for example in the area of dismissal), and in the setting up of required institutions (as in the field of health and safety), is often easier than demonstrating a consequential change in employment practice or behaviour. They suggest that juridification is likely to be experienced unevenly. The extent to which a party will be willing, or able, to call in aid legal norms, or will wish, or be able to resist their importation, will vary with the political and economic context at both macro and workplace level. In seeking to account for variation in impact and influence of statutory legislation they place explanatory weight on the nature of the legislation (for example whether or not it sets specific substantive standards) and its enforcement, and on a range of internal and external mediating factors.