Gender, Part-time Employment and Employee Participation in the Workplace: Comparing Australia and the European Union
The international trend in the growth and incidence of 'no n-standard employment', and its highly gendered nature, is well documented. For ease of definition, and because of the nature of the available data, we focus upon part-time employment in this paper. Employee participation may be defined as any workplace process which 'allows employees to exert some influence over their work and the conditions under which they work' (Strauss 1998). It may be divided into two main approaches, direct participation and indirect or representative participation. Direct participation involves the employee in job or task-oriented decision-making in the production process at the shop or office floor level. Indirect or representative forms of participation include joint consultative committees, works councils, and employee members of boards of directors or management. In the EU context statutory works councils are the most common expression of representative participation, but in Australia, consultative committees resulting from union/employer agreement or unilateral management initiative are the more common form. All of these forms of employee participation raise important issues concerning part time employees. Effective participation has two further major requirements which also may disadvantage part timers. First, there is a ge neral consensus in the participation literature that training is required for effective direct or representative participation. Secondly, effective communication between management and employees is required for participation, preferably involving a two-way information flow. The issue is of further significance since it has decided gender implications. This paper seeks to redress this relative insularity in the literature by examining some broad trends in this area in Australia and the EU. It analyses survey data at a national level in Australia and compares with some survey data generated in the EU by the EPOC project and analysed by Juliet Webster along the lines which we suggest here. It tests the hypothesis that the growth of one non-standard form of employment, part-time employment, diminishes the access to participation in the workplace enjoyed by female workers in comparison with their male colleagues, and finds that the hypothesis is strongly confirmed. This has major implications for workplace equity, and for organisational efficiency.
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