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University of Alberta
School of Business
University of Alberta
The following discussion is based on Richard Locke and Thomas Kochan.
1995. "Conclusion: The Transformation of Industrial Relations? A Cross-National
Review of the Evidence." In Richard Locke, Thomas Kochan and Michael Piore (eds.), Employment
Relations in a Changing World Economy. The MIT Press.
F Two HRM
systems (click for more info) -- Command-and-Control vs. High-Performance -- and
two matching IR systems.
F The HRM/IR systems in place
today in North America, Europe, and Japan are a consequence of labor's and management's
choice of ideology (reform-socialism, anarcho-syndicalism, business unionism, Christian
unionism) and strategy which took shape around the turn of the century.
F To understand national HRM/IR
systems, we should adopt a systems view and an historical perspective.
History, institutions and choices are all important considerations in explaining the
nature of national HRM/IR systems and international variations.
F The individual enterprise
has emerged as an increasingly important locus of HR and IR decision making and strategy. Sweden
represents the most visible case in point, as well as Germany where works councils
are assuming a growing role as workplace bargaining agents.
F Decentralization has been
accompanied by the search for greater flexibility in how work is organized and
labor is deployed. This has resulted in a tension:
A) On the one hand, part-time and temporary employment
(fixed-term contracts) is on the rise;
B) yet at the same time management makes efforts to tap front-line employee
knowledge and experience by providing work arrangements that delegate decision-making
authority to those who control how products/services are produced, and are best situated
to identify quality problems, design solutions and implement them.
F There has been a growing
importance of skill development.
F Union membership has
F Whereas flexibility in work
organization is becoming a key source of competitive advantage, its diffusion remains uneven
across and within countries.
Across countries: Those countries that come from a
tradition of job control (France, England, Canada, and the USA), have experienced the
greatest pressures to transform their work organization arrangements. Those national
systems of HRM/IR that were never completely Taylorist and/or where they already had
workplace practices that promote flexibility and communication such as Japan and Germany,
seem to have been able to accommodate more easily the need for these new work practices.
Within countries: Even within countries there appears to
be significant variation in the extent of change, and these differences seem to be linked
to the particular characteristics of individual firms and industries. The most profound
departures from traditional practices appear to take place where:
v a new "greenfield" worksite is
established (Kalmar, Udevalla).
v major technological changes are introduced and
employees or their representatives have some voice in that process (Japan);
v in industries where the pressures of
international competition are strong;
v in settings where new union-management
partnerships are created (e.g. Japanese transplants in England, Saturn, Shell Sarnia).
extent to which employees enjoy job security differs between and within countries.
Generally, employees in Canada and the US have much less employment security than in the
other countries. However within countries there are variations as well (e.g., British
public-sector employees enjoy much better job security than their private-sector
counterparts. In Japan, employees in small companies don't have the same LTE arrangements
as employees in bigger companies do).
wages have been the most stagnant in the USA and grown moderately in Japan, Germany and
In principle, while employers
search for increased competitiveness may be a general phenomenon emanating from
international pressures that are common to all advanced industrial nations, different
institutional arrangements (e.g. LTE, Solidaristic Wage Policy, Co-Determination,
employment at will) filter these common pressures differently, so that changes in HRM/IR
practices vary across these countries (p. 365).
F Managing simultaneously
continuous quality improvement and cost containment.
F Polarization of opportunities
between those with access to education, training, and jobs with innovative practices and
those without. Is this gap larger or smaller than these found in traditional employment
systems? If it is, how can it be narrowed?