Any discussion about the relevance, historical or otherwise, of trade unions will include an analysis of the inequalities of the relationship between employer and employee. Whilst the law of contract regards the parties to the contract as being equal and as having willingly entered into a contractual arrangement, the reality is somewhat different. It is only a privileged few that are able to negotiate and agree their terms and conditions of employment. For most, the choice is represented by being offered a job by an employer, with associated terms and conditions of employment, and deciding whether to take it or leave it. For many, even this choice may be absent. If there is little alternative employment to be had, then the economic realities for individuals may mean that they have no choice but to accept the contract offered to them. To some extent, the inequalities in the employment relationship are levelled out by workers joining trade unions that can negotiate with employers on equal terms:

This system of collective bargaining rests on a balance of the collective forces of management and organisedlabour… However, the common law knows nothing of the balance of collective forces. It is (and this is its strength and its weakness) inspired by a belief in the equality (real or fictitious) of individuals; it operates between individuals and not otherwise. 1

Perhaps because of the traditional influence of trade unions and the perceived importance of wage levels by governments in their attempts to regulate the economy, collective bargaining and the agreements that are reached are subject to statutory definition.