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Employee Participation as a Route to Better Performance Essay

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Updated: Jul 29th, 2020

“Increased competition and concerns about economic performance have achieved “rights-based” employee participation more remote whilst encouraging the development of EI as a route to better market performance” (Marchington and Wilkinson 2005, p.399). Market performance for any institution is a key and important factor for any institution.

The performance of any company mainly relies on the board of managers and the workers of the whole company. Due to the increased competition in the economy from various companies producing the same commodities, there is a need for any specific company to ensure that its operation standards are maintained as high as possible. For the maintenance of the high standards of any company, there is a need for employee participation to be fully embraced.

Employer participation involves creating opportunities for the employees of a company to also give their views and to participate in the decision making of the company i.e. a process of employee involvement is a process created to enable the workers to take part in decision making of the matters in the company that directly affects their affairs. Employee involvement is all about creating ways that can make workers support and work towards achieving the company objectives (McCarthy 1966).

In most of the practical companies and institutions, the issue of employee participation is not embraced very much because of; there is fear by the managing body of the employees championing for some key issues that might be beneficial to them and in one way or another disadvantage the company. Moreover, the employee enjoys the power of the vote hence trough voting, they can bring about massive changes in an institution some of which might negatively impact the working and overall productivity of the institution.

However, most institutions mainly embrace the issue of employee involvement because this does not involve giving the employees a chance of making decisions. What employee involvement normally does is to encourage the employees to fully participate in activities that solely benefit the activities of the company by always increasing the profitability. This doesn’t directly benefit the workers. This is however not the expectations of what should be on the ground. Both of these issues like employee involvement and employee participation should be fully embraced. It is generally conceded that, in the liberal democratic world, working people should have the right to participate in the making of decisions that critically affect their working lives (Webb & Webb 1897, p.559).

Once the companies can decide to embrace these two policies of employee participation and employee involvement, there is no doubt that the two parties i.e. the company and the workers will benefit positively. The workers can be fully be engaged in this activity through arranging for forums and dialogues it was quoted that, ‘Effective employee dialogue can help staff feel more involved and valued by their employer, make them better aware of the business climate in which the organization is operating and help them be more responsive to and better prepared for change. This issue assists companies in better staff management and low levels of absenteeism. Moreover, it leads to more increased innovation and ease of coping with any change (Bacon 2009).

It is this during the handling of this discussion, there are some very key and important terms that have to be clarified and explained so as there use may not bring confusion and controversy. These terms include;

  • Level: this represents any point or class of the workers ranks at the workplace up to the international director(s)
  • Scope; the scope is divided into two categories like task-centered which is concerned with the day to day operations of and company. The other category of scope is the power-centred which is concerned with the more fundamental decisions like collective decisions of a company, institution or company (Lyddon 1998).
  • Direct forms “these allow employees to be personally and actively involved in the decision-making of a company or company” (Clarke & Clements 1978, p.373).
  • Indirect forms “this is a form of management that restricts the mass of employees to a relatively passive role and relies on representatives” (Clarke & Clements 1978, p.373).
  • Empowerment may be defined as; “management strategies for sharing decision-making power” (Clarke & Clements 1978, p.373). “It is predominantly about encouraging front-line staff to solve customer problems on the spot, without constant recourse to management approval” (Phil 2007, p.78). “Empowerment becomes a euphemism for work intensification” (Panitch & Swartz 2003, p.379).

All the forms of communication, whether verbal or written directly influence the running and management of the company. Communication is achieved by consultation, negotiation and other forms of communication. During any communication, information is always one way, for example, information normally comes from one point i.e. the source to the recipient. The information does not allow participation in decision-making but can provide data for collective bargaining. Consultation may allow participation in decision making but often does not. Where responses to the consultation are taken seriously, negotiation may arise (Millward, et al. 2000).

Collective bargaining is ‘Voluntary negotiations between employers or employers’ organizations and workers’ organizations, with a view to the regulation of terms and conditions of employment by collective agreement’ (ILO Convention No. 98, 1949). This is different from the issue of employee involvement which mainly involves the employees working towards the goals and objectives of the company. Collective bargaining is a process of representation where people ask for their rights as a whole group.

This, however, does not in any way try to replace the initial contracts that each worker had already signed. It simply mitigates the uneven balance of power between the organization and the individual worker. Collective bargaining is where the collective agreements are only ‘binding in honour’. However, even in the presence of collective responsibility, management is invariably the dominant party. Lastly, collective bargaining is not an isolated process. This collective bargaining is an issue that is mainly embraced through the trade unions (Batstone, et al. 1977).

In any organization or company, the issue of trade unions is always a present and key issue. A trade union can be defined with various definitions, a few of which are stated below;

  • Webb’s’ definition:”… a continuous association of wage earners for maintaining or improving the conditions of their working lives” (Webb & Webb 1897, p.599).
  • Hyman’s definition: “A trade union is, first and foremost, an agency and medium of power. Its central purpose is to permit workers to exert, collectively, the control over their conditions of employment which they cannot hope to possess as individuals” (1989, p.77).
  • Other people have also tried to explain what they know of the world trade union. One person says; “The union’s purpose is to separate the boss from his cash (Jack Dash, Dockers’ shop steward)” (Perlman 1928, p.272).

Various theories have been put across to try and explain the issue of trade unions. Some of the reputed theories are Marxist theories. These theories try to explain the views they have of the trade unions, they include;

  • Optimistic view-trade unions a ‘school of war’ for working-class struggle.
  • Pessimistic view-trade unions limit workers struggles
  • Hyman: the limits of trade unionism
  • Rare for commitment to social change to be ‘operational’, but collective bargaining an accommodation to external power (Hyman 1975).

The issue of trade unions is an issue that has existed for a very long time. The best known early union was formed by farm workers on poverty wages. On 24 February 1834, 6 men were arrested, tried, found guilty of swearing ‘illegal oaths’ and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation. The issue of trade unions was brought up because of a few reasons which included; Poverty wages, appalling conditions, unemployment, bad winters and poor harvests in 1829 and 1830. Also, ‘Captain Swing’ riots 1830, political agitation, history of workers banding together and rapid industrialization led to the formation of trade unions (Biggs 2001).

Some conditions led to the start of the trade unions, these conditions involved, early industrialization, characterized by (relatively) small enterprises local and mainly owned by one family, Often dangerous working conditions. This issue of bringing the new ‘working class’ together in cities helped political ideas to spread. Also, stories such as that of the Tolpuddle workers seriously made the workers see the need for coming up with the trade unions (Cole 1939).

Traditionally, trade unions are classified in various ways. These classifications include;

  • Craft: Controlling entry to a trade, apprenticeships, restricting numbers, possession of some superior skill.
  • Occupational: Restricted to a single occupation or narrow range of related jobs.
  • Industrial: Organizes workers in a specific industry.
  • General: “…in principle will recruit any workers except such as they have agreed not to” (Turner 1962, p.240).

However, Turner differs with these traditional trade union classification methods. He argues that the above categories are vague and unhelpful and do not explain the “morphology” of trade unionism. He further says that “It is still true that no industry of any size, and few substantial occupations, are organized by a single union alone; while few sizeable unions, on the other hand, restrict themselves to a single occupation or industry” (Turner 1962, p.237). Lastly, Turner (1962, p.241) says that trade unions do not yield a sharp jurisdictional definition in practice.

Lastly, Turner gives alternative ways of classifying trade unions. He argued for a distinction between open and closed trade unions. An open union recruits all the workers’ employer engages. In this open trade union, power derives from numerical strength and is usually very unstable (low occupational solidarity). A closed union does not allow further registration of new members. In this closed trade union, Power comes from control of the labour supply and is usually a very Stable union (high occupational solidarity).

It depends whether the union operates in an expanding area of employment and/or has an orientation to recruitment. The structure of any trade union normally has very big implications; it may help explain union policy and actions, union type, growth of the union, dynamic analysis. This will further sub-divide the unions into two categories, that is, Open unions which normally have a high concern with pay and closed unions whose concerns are on labour supply and job regulation (Perlman 1928).

Trade unions are usually headed by governments that ensure the smooth running of the union business.

The government of any trade union was greatly dependant three groups. The three groups were: its full-time officials, that proportion of its lay members which takes an active part in the union’s management and the usually more passive majority of the rank-and-file (Turner 1962, p.289). There are different types of the union government and Turner classifies them under the following categories;

  • Exclusive Democracies
  • Closed entry: high participation by members: few FTOs: close identification of status and interest between FTOs and members
  • Aristocracies
  • vertical: closed, but becoming more open: a participative ‘aristocracy’ emerging alongside a more passive ‘subject class’, resulting in a generally low level of participation
  • ‘Popular Bossdoms’
  • Horizontal: an open union with no dominating groups, low participation, and greater distinction in status and interest between FTOs and members.

However, the structures and governance of any company or institution can not be neatly categorized. This is because the trade unions can be a mixture of open and closed, characterized by more than one type of government. Also, open unions are generally large, but not all closed unions are small. The relationship between membership and key officials depends on the style of leadership – dictatorial, or encouraging of membership participation (Marchington & Wilkinson 2005).

The democracy of any institution can be categorized in various ways which include;

  • Representative democracy
  • Representatives elected to govern and to lead
  • Participative democracy
  • Members involved in policymaking and decision making

However, there are tensions between national leadership and workplace activists. Hence there is the need for efficient administration and the need for effective representation and democracy. Therefore there is a need for heterogeneous membership (and internal union structure) and the need for a coherent union policy (Hobsbawm and Rudé 1969).

There are various ways and methods of making trade unions. This is dependent on various issues in the company and the workers in particular. Trade unions can be formed through mutual insurance. This is where the individual benefits and the strike in detail. The other method of making trade unions is collecting all the workers of an institution to collectively present your grievances.

This is a method that can only be fully developed by unions. However, this method has the disadvantage of bringing about very many strikes. This method also causes outcomes subject to shifting power balance. The last method of coming about with trade unions is through the legal enactments and this is where the community accepts the importance of employment issues law insulated from economic conditions (c.f. Thatcherism) (landers 1968).

Trade unions are created to serve various purposes to the company and the workers. These functions include;

The control of jobs; they do this through the control of labour supply; they also influence the training requirements to allow entry into a job. In addition, the medical professions seek to influence state and employers over training requirements.

Moreover, they serve in the training of the workers. For instance, ASLEF takes seven years to train to become a train driver. They also regulate the job content that is given to the workers. Through this, they Influence job content to ‘demarcate’ that job from others. This is done through Traditional attempts by unions to control job content (for example Bentley) overtaken by technology and employer control and RCN use Statutory Provisions to control what activities a nurse should undertake (Whitston 2002).

They also serve the purpose of erring together all the workers to present their problems together. They do this by seeking to negotiate with the employer over the terms and conditions of members. They also do this through negotiations underpinned by threat, or taking of industrial action. Contents of collective agreements can vary between basic pay rates to detailed agreements on productivity.

They are also entitled to the responsibility of representing the members of the union. This is both an individual (and collective) representation of members at work, for example in discipline and grievances cases. This will assist in ensuring that complaints of the workers reach the management of the company in the most appropriate way (Taylor 2000).

Furthermore, Trade unions influence the operations of the government. This is through carrying out campaigns to amend, repeal or introduce laws. They also assist in lobbying government, Social partner-incomes policy, social policy, training, health and safety, participation in commissions. In addition, they create contact with the political parties but they do this with no political affiliation. Through this influence with the state, the trade unions create links with social democratic parties (the Labour Party), secure working-class representation in parliament through being organized based on affiliated trade unions, Constituency Labour Parties, Parliamentary Labour Party, and affiliated socialist societies, with individual membership. Also, individual unions (with a political fund) can affiliate their members to the Party, sponsor MPs, fund local and national campaigns etc.). Lastly, the contentious alliance between Party and unions-but the aim is to influence Party (and government) policy in the interests of unions and their members (Fox 1966).

The influence of any union can be assessed and measured. There are several measures of the union influence, which include; the union density; this is the “actual union membership as a percentage of potential membership” (Phil 2007, p.631). This can include or exclude the unemployed; include or exclude retired and those in self-employment. Another measure of the union influence is Union Coverage: which is the group of employees who have come together to form a group to represent them (Phil 2007). Lastly, union influence can be measured by Union Recognition: Whether the employer recognizes the union. This recognition is through collective bargaining and representation of the workforce.

Trade Unions’ strength can fall depending on various issues largely being the government policies and the employees themselves. The strength of the trade union depends on employer willingness to recognize unions (share control) depend partly on the attitude of the government in encouraging or discouraging unionism. The ability to avoid unions, through, new or small workplaces, or employment in the private services sector or through individualization of the employment relationship and Workers may not join unions if they are worried that this will harm their job prospects (Ironside & Seifert 2000).

For the presence of good communication between the company management board and the employee unions, there has to be a link between the two (Purcell 1983). This link is the shop steward, who is a person who is part of the workers that is accepted and relied upon by both parties that is the workers and the company and carries out the purpose of communication’ (U.S department of labour, 2009). A shop steward is a generic term, but specific to trade unions.

Other terms may be used, such as Father/Mother of the chapel in printing staff, office or departmental representative for white-collar workers: but a ‘representative’ may be non-union like on works councils. Branch officials may also take on the role of the shop steward. The shop stewards carry out the following functions; Administrative role, Representative role, Collective bargaining function. However, the shop stewards face the following problems: High levels of turnover, Never off duty, Often consultation rather than negotiation, May become too close to managers (Walton & McKersie 1991).

In conclusion, it is important to acknowledge the different activities unions undertake (and have always undertaken) to seek to influence the joint and legal regulation of the employment relationship. Also, it is important to analyze, in particular, the way (all) unions seek to gain political influence. From this discussion, it is clear that employee participation should be fully embraced more than employee involvement. This is because employee involvement is one-sided i.e. the key objective is to make the company more profitable. For employee participation sides that is, the company and the employees are put into consideration.


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