This paper addresses the question: what impact do trade unions have on workplace governance, and how has this changed during two decades of union decline? Using nationally representative data on employees in the British Social Attitudes Surveys (BSAS) 1983–1998, we assess associations between measures of unionisation and employee perceptions of three aspects of workplace governance: the employee relations climate; managers’ treatment of employees and unions; and managerial performance. The paper provides broad support for the three hypotheses explored in the paper. First, employees’ perceptions of workplace governance are better where there is a balance of power between unions and management at the workplace. Secondly, employees’ perceptions of workplace governance are better where management supports union membership, and are poorest where they actively discourage membership. Thirdly, employees’ perceptions of union effectiveness are positively associated with employees’ perceptions of good workplace governance. A further hypothesis, namely that perceptions of governance will have deteriorated since the 1980s in unionised workplaces due to the weaker position of unions in the workplace, and to declining support for unions among employers, was not supported. Perceptions of workplace governance had deteriorated since the 1980s. However, these trends were apparent among employees in unionised and non-unionised workplaces. There was no evidence to suggest that the trend was associated with a diminution in union power, managers’ changing attitudes to unions, or the perceived effectiveness of unions.
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