Partnership in UK financial services: achieving efficiency, equity and voice?
thesisposted on 07.05.2009, 15:41 by Stewart Johnstone
The existing British partnership literature is notoriously polarised. Two main streams of research have emerged. Early empirical work focused upon trade union representative capacity outcomes, in other words does partnership represent a threat or opportunity to the beleaguered trade union movement. Many of the conclusions have been negative, suggesting that partnership is a dangerous strategy for trade unions. More recent empirical work has focused upon the extent to which partnership offers mutual gains outcomes to employers, trade unions and employees. While much of the research has been pessimistic, various typologies of partnership have emerged, suggesting a variety of possible outcomes. However, despite the abundance of literature, three particular limitations are noteworthy. Firstly, few studies consider how partnership plays out in different contexts. Secondly, little attention has been given to understanding more about the process of partnership. Thirdly, there are limitations to the way outcomes have been assessed. Crude use of labour outcomes, such as job losses or pay levels may tell us nothing about the quality of employment relations. Accordingly, the study has five main objectives. Firstly, partnership is explored in a variety of organisational contexts. Secondly, particular attention is paid to what partnership means to organisational actors. Thirdly, the study focuses upon two indicators of partnership process: the nature of relationships between actors, and the way issues are handled and decisions are made. Indeed, it is argued that one cannot fully understand the outcomes without exploring both process and context. Fourthly, outcomes for management, unions and employees are explored, as well as wider societal goals. Finally, the study considers some of the main challenges to partnership in the UK. Given the nature of the research questions, qualitative methods were thought to be most appropriate. In particular, a case study research design was employed focusing on three organisations in the thriving financial service sector, thus offering a very different context to traditional IR - and partnership – research in manufacturing and public services. The study also offers insights into partnership in both union and non-union firms. The bulk of the data was obtained through semi-structured interviews with a range of managers, representatives and employees in each organisation, as well as interviews with trade union officials. This was supplemented by documentary analysis and non-participant observation. Thus, the thesis makes several important contributions. Firstly, it offers fresh empirical evidence into partnership working in the UK, drawn from a variety of contexts within the internationally important financial service sector. Since the outcomes of partnership are difficult to measure the study also considers issues of process which are overlooked in the existing research. Actor relationships and bargaining explored in relation to models of integrative and distributive bargaining as proposed by Walton and McKersie (1965). Decision making processes are also explored by developing the analytical framework proposed by Budd (2004), which has not been widely employed in British industrial relations research. The thesis therefore offers a different way of evaluating the outcomes of partnership for various stakeholders, and avoids conflating union attitudes with employee opinions. In this way, the research transcends the recent advocates/critics stalemate in the literature.
- Business and Economics