Managers' Perceptions of Cooperation and Joint Decision-Making with Trade Unions: A Regional Case Study in the Illawarra (Australia)
This paper examines managerial perceptions of cooperation and consultation, and tests the hypothesis of some unionists that cooperation and consultation as perceived by management minimise union input into the decision-making process. The increased adoption of a strategic HRM perspective on the employment relationship has led to a growing concern with building cooperation through employee consultation and participation at the workplace level. This perspective actually embraces two broad approaches: 'hard' HRM characterised by direct forms of job-related participation; and 'soft' HRM characterised by representative forms of participation, or joint decision making, between management and unions and/or works councils (or consultative committees), as favoured in much of Europe. The choice between these is influenced, among other things, by the industrial environment in which workplaces operate, particularly the strength of traditional industrial relations structures and perspectives. This case study is based upon a survey of employment relations managers' attitudes to cooperation and joint decision making in a region characterised by a strong traditional industrial relations infrastructure, including strong unionism. It shows that whilst strategic HRM perspectives on employee participation have developed a significant presence in the region's workplaces, they have been adapted to the industrial environment. The managers overwhelmingly reported a cooperative relationship with unions, and a significant proportion believed in joint decision making with unions, albeit over a selective range of issues. Managers of public sector, tertiary sector and large workplaces were far more inclined to support joint decision making than others. The survey results also show that those respondents who perceived a cooperative relationship indicated a greater willingness on the part of management to share input with the union than those who perceived their relationship as confrontational. The perspective of a pragmatic HRM shaped by its industrial environment is confirmed by comparing these results with those from a survey of US employee relations managers conducted by Perline and Sexton (1994). The results of this comparison diverge considerably. Perline and Sexton found for the US that 'those managers who perceived their relationship with the union to be cooperative were less likely to believe that issues should be jointly determined by management and the union', thus confirming the pessimistic union hypothesis.
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