Better than nothing? Is non-union partnership a contradiction in terms?

Though the notion of union-management partnership commands an extensive body of literature, little is known about non-union partnership arrangements. This article addresses the relatively unexplored issue of non-union partnership through a detailed case study of WebBank, a British internet bank. Three main themes are explored. Firstly, we seek to understand more about the meaning of – and rationale for – partnership in non-union settings. Secondly, we explore the operation of non-union partnership in practice. Finally, we evaluate the effectiveness of non-union partnership from the perspectives of various organisational actors. The article suggests that in judging the effectiveness of a partnership arrangement, or indeed any voice regime more generally, there is a need to re-consider the benchmarks for success, and to place them in the context of contemporary employment relations. The evidence suggests that it would be deeply unhelpful and inaccurate to dismiss a non-union partnership a priori as a ‘contradiction in terms’.