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Looking for HRM/Union Substitution: Evidence from British Workplaces


  • Stephen Machin
  • Stephen Wood


In this paper we test the HRM/union substitution hypothesis that human resource management (HRM) practices act as a substitute for unionization. We use British workplace data between 1980 and 1998 which allows us toexamine for the first time whether increased HRM incidence has coincided with union decline.First, we compare changes over time in the incidence of HRM practices across union and non-union sectors, finding little cross-time difference occurring between sectors. Second, we ask whether newer workplaces (strongly shown by other research as more likely to be non-union) have experienced differentiallyfaster HRM incidence; we are unable to find much evidence in support of this. Third, longitudinal changes alsofail to pick up any evidence of faster union decline in workplaces or industries with faster take up of HRMpractices. We find no evidence of HRM substitution operating in the hypothesised way of it replacing unions and conclude that increased HRM incidence does not seem to be an important factor underpinning union decline in Britain.

Suggested Citation

  • Stephen Machin & Stephen Wood, 2004. "Looking for HRM/Union Substitution: Evidence from British Workplaces," CEP Discussion Papers dp0605, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  • Handle: RePEc:cep:cepdps:dp0605

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. John H. Pencavel, 2004. "The Surprising Retreat of Union Britain," NBER Chapters,in: Seeking a Premier Economy: The Economic Effects of British Economic Reforms, 1980-2000, pages 181-232 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Human Resource Management; Trade unions;

    JEL classification:

    • J51 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining - - - Trade Unions: Objectives, Structure, and Effects

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