Employment Relations in Non-Union Firms (Routledge Research in Employment Relations)

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To quote: non-unionism came late to the party and did not even have the fancy dress of capital letters to ease its entrance.

Instead of gatecrashing in a blatant manner, it could be observed as one of the guests quietly holding a drink while HRM and New IR partied noisily in the middle of the throng. In terms of the concerns of this study, the employee attitude survey approach probably contains more useful insights. This suggests a link with the concept of the psychological contract and notions of justice, trust and identity, which will be explained in greater detail in the next chapter. Managerial accounts of non-unionism This approach, which largely consists of the accounts of non-union managers Peach ; Tse ; Sieff ; Billot also yields some insights.

However, given the potential bias in these studies, they must clearly be interpreted with some caution. Nonetheless, provided they are not taken as empirically grounded, they are interesting and contain clear messages that 10 The non-union phenomenon are worthy of recognition. In submitting evidence to the Donovan Commission , the then Managing Director of the Rugby Portland Cement Company remarked: we deplore the terms industrial and labour relations.

We prefer human relations, and these relations depend on the tone of one man, the executive; his philosophies, his outlook, his leadership. Reddish , in Barrett et al. In addition, Cressey , Blyton and Turnbull and Turnbull and Wass show that much of what has been written about the sophisticated non-union model is more rhetoric than reality, and that it is a phenomenon that invites a high dependency on, rather than a high commitment to the organisation. Non-union case studies This is a much wider and deeper approach in terms of analysis and it includes a range of academic-based case studies.

These include the work of Foulkes , Cressey , Dickson et al.

Employment Relations In Non Union Firms (Routledge Research In Employment Relations)

For example, Foulkes provides a detailed assessment of particular personnel policies in large US companies that are linked to managerial union avoidance strategies. That is, management are extremely anti-union, use coercive tactics and abuse the notions of authority and power to secure a preferred way of managing. That is, the main reason for the empirical enquiry was not non-unionism per se, but some other aspect of the employment relationship.


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The information that can be derived from this work is highly relevant. While they all differ in their aims and perspectives, these studies offer valuable insights into non-union practices. For example, some of the earlier work by Bolton , a government commission that examined employment in small companies has been highly criticised for its simplistic view, and Rainnie , , Goss and Scase and Goffee all found that the small is beautiful notion is misleading.

Research Outputs

The labour process approach Yet another approach is the information derived from the critical literature on labour process theory. Some of the approaches, such as evil stuff, resonate in a way that is more applicable to the US than the UK, and so the labels awkward, tame and harm stuff are used to map more recent developments among British non-union employers.

Much of this work is underpinned by the idea that since HRM is based on individual and unitarist principles see Chapter 2 , the nonunion sector is fertile ground for the use of these new managerial strategies.

Employment Relations in Non-Union Firms (Routledge Research in Employment Relations)

Problematically, the evidence suggests that this is a sweeping overgeneralisation. In addition, the desire by management to remain non-union seems to be more associated with competitive market conditions than any clear HRM-type model Rubery ; Kochan et al. Among nonunion organisations, the workplace industrial relations survey series shows The non-union phenomenon 13 labour turnover and dismissals are higher, and that workers are more likely to experience health and safety problems and face redundancies than in their unionised counterparts Millward et al.

Furthermore, evidence suggests that High Commitment Management HCM practices, which might have links with sustained organisational performance, are just as relevant in unionised as non-union establishments Cully et al. Research aims and questions Although the brief review of the literature given above reveals that something is known of the non-union situation, compared to the vast amount of information that exists about organisations in which trade unions are recognised, the body of knowledge is patchy to say the least.

It was this that informed the aims of this investigation. Of course, the organisation itself is a context to its system of employee relations and since these contexts differ substantially, a second general objective was to explain the key factors that shape and modify these different relationships. To this end the book seeks to address the following questions and issues: 1 2 3 4 5 6 What are the key characteristics that explain the employment relationship in non-union settings? Given the absence of a trade union, what provisions exist for employees to articulate their concerns employee voice?

Outline of the book The chapters that follow take the reader through the stages that were concerned with addressing the aims of the investigation.

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Chapter 4 gives a brief description of the research strategy and methodology used to investigate the case study organisations. Chapters 5 to 8 present the results from four case studies. These are: the legal view of the employment contract; the traditional industrial relations perspective; and social exchange theory.


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  4. While each one has its own conception of the most important features of the relationship, none of them embraces all of its aspects and so all of them have their own inherent advantages and limitations. This discussion is used to offer a re-conceptualisation of the employment relationship, from which is derived a typology of relationships that was used to categorise the organisations investigated in this study.

    Voice and involvement at work: experience with non-union representation

    Conceptualising employment relations There is considerable debate about what constitutes an employment relationship, and what can be taken to be its most important characteristics. An allied argument points to the reshaping of organisational structures, where Rubery et al. As such, the permeable nature of organisations results in complex multi-employer networking, public-private partnerships, commercial alliances and franchising systems that have serious 16 The employment relationship re-visited implications for the legal and socially constructed image of the employment relationship.

    Rubery et al. It is also important to recognise that while workers and managers have some objectives in common, there are others where their interests can be diametrically opposed. Thus the employment relationship is one in which antagonism and co-operation can exist side-by-side Edwards A lasting reconciliation of this type usually requires some form of compliance, if not cooperation, although one of the things that stands in the way of this is that the balance of power in the workplace is normally tilted heavily in favour of management Blyton and Turnbull None of these is inherently right or wrong.

    Rather, they are different paradigms that can be used to view the same phenomenon, and each one tends to be accepted by a particular community of interest. Within each of these paradigms there are different schools of thought that emphasise particular facets of the relationship, and to try to cover all of them would be well beyond the scope of this book.

    For this reason, the mainstream approaches will be described, together with a note of their particular strengths and weaknesses so far as this study is concerned. The legal conception of the employment relationship In theory, this is by far the most straightforward view of what constitutes an employment relationship. On its own, however, it is also the weakest of all The employment relationship re-visited 17 theoretical perspectives. This is both an economic and a legal construct Davies and Freedland ; Whincup The contract of employment is generally taken to be the cornerstone of British labour law Kahn-Freund and three important assumptions underpin the notion of a contract.

    However, there are a number of problems with these assumptions. To start with there is the matter of an imbalance of power in the relationship, about which the employment contract is notoriously silent. The problem is that while the contract assumes that the parties enter the relationship freely and equally, it is completely silent about equality and freedom in an ongoing sense.

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    In addition to the expressly agreed terms such as hours of work and rates of payment, there are other terms of the contract, which are implied in common law. This, of course, is one of the main reasons why employees might see it as advantageous to band together by joining a trade union and to quote from the doyen of British labour lawyers: trade unions are more likely to be a more effective force in redressing the imbalance of power inherent in the contract than the law is, or ever could be. Kahn-Freund 10 Ultimately, the assumption of freedom to enter into the relationship hinges on the idea that either party can refuse to do so, but in a practical sense even this can be questioned.

    Cohen alludes to the dilemma between free in theory and forced in practice, by citing the example of an unemployed, unskilled worker faced with the choice between taking a hazardous job, or no job at all: 18 The employment relationship re-visited To infer from the fact that John was free to do other things, that he was therefore not forced to take a hazardous job, is to employ a fake account of what it is to be forced to do something.

    When a person is forced to do something he has no reasonable or acceptable alternative course.

    He need not have an alternative at all. Kahn-Freund in Davies and Freedland There are additional problems associated with some of the things that tend to be swept-up into a contract. As noted above, it contains both expressly agreed and implied obligations, yet in practice the parties agree to only some of these beforehand. Employees have to be aware of their rights in order to exercise them, and where there is no trade union to advise people, the law can be so complex that they frequently lack detailed knowledge of their common law rights.

    In contrast, employers tend to have the services of personnel specialists or other legal advisers at their disposal.


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    A recent example of this is the passage of the Employment Relations Act which, among other things, contains a provision for statutory union recognition. Even in the case of a single-site employer, a problematic area is the matter of works or organisational rules. The sole author of these rules is invariably the employer and because a prospective employee — or in multi-employer or networked organisations, an employee on loan — is unlikely to have had the opportunity to assent or dissent to these rules, they The employment relationship re-visited 19 are effectively imposed in silence.

    Thus it has been argued that the contract is not even an agreement about terms and conditions, but simply an agreement to enter into a relationship, the terms and conditions of which have yet to emerge Honeyball For all these criticisms, contracting between employer and employee undeniably takes place, and so the legal perspective has a role in conceptualising the employment relationship, whether it is in a unionised or nonunion organisation. For this reason, we will return to this matter later, when considering an alternative perspective. The fact remains however, that the legal perspective on its own is incapable of expressing the complexity, subtlety and potential unevenness of the relationship.

    As noted earlier, one way in which employees can resolve this is by collectivising and using the agency of a trade union to formulate and administer rules and agreements that remove some of the ambiguities and inherent inequalities in the relationship. For this reason it is relevant to consider the Industrial Relations conception of the employment relationship, which is covered next.