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Employee representation in non-union firms: a critical evaluation of managerial motive and the efficacy of the voice process

By Peter Butler


This thesis sets out to explore the much overlooked phenomenon of non-union employee representation (NERs). The work is concerned with both the utility of these structures from a workforce perspective and the managerial motivation underpinning the presence of these bodies. Further to the exploration of the above themes case study research was carried out in three organisations possessing relatively mature non-union representative structures.\ud In terms of managerial goals it is suggested that that the extant literature affords a partial account; commentators characteristically depict a manifestly defensive intent, with goals evinced in terms of trade union exclusion. This study advances knowledge in this area by providing a more discriminating analysis exploring the contingent factors differentially shaping the managerial response to employee representation. Over and above union avoidance, evidence is presented of certain managerial actors pursuing a more proactive set of goals aimed at securing the cooperation of employees via the legitimacy imbued though the process of consultation. The necessity for such a response is tracked to factors relating to demands in and around the nature of the production regime/mode of service delivery.\ud With regard to the theme of employee empowerment the thesis broadly supports the extant literature in demonstrating that the institutions under review represent largely unavailing vehicles for the furtherance of employee interests. A distinct feature, however, is that in contrast to these predominantly descriptive studies the theme of `voice' is ensconced within a theoretically informed analysis, allowing the study to move beyond this somewhat bland conclusion. The shortcomings are tracked to the key areas of power, autonomy and competence - ultimately manifest in a marked legitimacy gap. \ud In the final analysis it is argued that there are inherent tensions unleashed by this mode of intervention precluding beneficial outcomes for both parties. Specifically, topics relating to the irreconcilability of the pursuit of both corporate and workforce goals through a managerially derived format are considered. Similarly, the rationality and coherence of a managerial agenda pursuant of `rival logics' of action, relating to both issues of workplace control and employee empowerment, is afforded critical scrutiny

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