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The Meani Ngs And Pur Pose Of Employee Voice

1455 words - 6 pages

The last decade has seen a growing interest in the notion of employee voice, both from those seeking higher levels of organisational performance and from those desiring better systems of employee representation. In public policy terms, the environment is more sympathetic to trade unions, more animated by notions of employee rights, and supported by new legal regulations (Ewing 2003). The election of New Labour in 1997, and their return in 2001, appears to mark another major turning point for employment policy (Ackers et al, 2004). While the current government remains committed to labour flexibility, it has been prepared both to regulate independently on behalf of employees and ...view middle of the document...

For some non-unionised firms, EWCs have offered new opportunities for employee voice, as will the transposition agreement endorsed by the CBI and TUC regarding the new EU Directive on Employee Information and Consultation (DTI, 2003; Ackers et al, 2004). Also, statutory trade union recognition raises the prospects of employers having to accept, perhaps reluctantly, trade union recognition for collective bargaining purposes where it is desired by a majority of their employees (Gill & Krieger, 1999). There are already signs of employers trying to pre-empt the possibility of a particular (perhaps militant) trade union being imposed on them by offering voluntary recognition for a selected single union. Equally, the EU Directive on Information and Consultation will require employers, in undertakings with 50 or more employees, to put in place procedures for employee voice over the next few years. The scope of such consultation will cover matters pertaining to the economic situation of the undertaking, developments relating to employment (especially any threats to employment), and substantial changes in work organisation or in contractual relations (Hall et al, 2002). In these cases, the legislation is likely to be the start of the story rather than the end, as employers exercise new choices and strategies shaped by the new regulatory environment.
In this article we examine the meanings and purpose of employee voice against this changing regulatory backdrop. We first consider the meanings of voice and its various characteristics to produce an analytical framework against which to examine the case study organisations. We also discuss the research instruments utilised in our study and outline the key characteristics of sample organisations. In the following section we discuss the purpose of voice, as articulated by the respondents in our sample. We then move on to examine the various mechanisms used and assess the extent to which these are embedded in each organisation (see also Cox et al, 2003). The penultimate section goes on to assess respondents’ views on the perceived outcomes of various employee voice schemes. Finally, in the concluding section, we comment on the utility of the framework presented for analysis and future prospects for employee voice.

Voice is a term that has been more widely used in the practitioner and academic literature on HRM and industrial relations in recent years (Beardwell 1998, Sako 1998, Benson 2000; Roche, 2000). It is also noteworthy that a book based on the WERS surveys (Millward et al, 2000) devoted a complete chapter to the question of whether or not employees have ‘lost their voice’. In an issue of the Industrial Participation Association (IPA) Bulletin, Geoff Armstrong of the CIPD suggested that voice historically meant collective bargaining, and that this ‘chosen method of joint regulation became a straitjacket inhibiting the very things needed to win and keep customers’. He...

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