Professor Peter Turnbull from the University of Bristol, UK presents: 'Evidence-based representation: a more effective form of unionism?'
Although we live in a world of “evidence-based policy-making”, the nature of evidence is contested. In areas such as medicine, disagreements tend to be “routine” whereas in many areas of public policy, such as industrial relations, disagreements are often “principled”, not simply in terms of “what counts as evidence” but also “what counts as a problem”. All too often, “evidence” appears to have been constructed to justify the policy (ex post) rather than to inform the most appropriate policy choice (ex ante).
When representing their members, trade unions always start with evidence and the “force of argument”. If their arguments fall on deaf ears, unions can always resort to the “argument of force” (industrial action), but with ever more restrictive employment and trade union laws, precarious employment and the demise of traditional forms of solidarity in workplaces and communities, unions need to become much better at the “force of argument”. At a minimum, unions need to develop the capacity to “match”, if not better, the “evidence” presented by employers, governments and other organisations with a stake in employment and industrial relations.
Working with a number of national unions and international trade union federations, Peter Turnbull has developed a model of “evidence-based representation” that combines: (i) social science research evidence (the “big E”) on generalizable knowledge regarding cause-effect relationships, (ii) local or organization/workplace specific evidence (the “little e”) systematically gathered in a particular setting to inform decisions, (iii) practitioner expertise and experience (the accumulated wisdom of union reps and officials), and (iv) stakeholder interests (including members, the union and wider labour movement, management, shareholders, customers, communities, government). In order to build capacity, union representatives must be involved in the research process, from conception of research questions to presentation of research evidence and the systematic review of how employers and other stakeholders respond to the representation of workers’ interests.
In this public lecture, Professor Turnbull will present the model of evidence-based representation in more detail alongside examples of its application in the UK with different unions (e.g. British Airline Pilots’ Association and Prospect/Air Traffic Control Officers) and professional associations (Police Federation of England & Wales and the Scottish Police Federation), as well as international trade union federations (e.g. European Transport Workers’ Federation). The discussion will be frames in ways that are relevant and thought provoking for Australian unions.