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 Trade Unions and the Representation of Non-Standard Workers


Professor Edmund Heery
Professor Rick Delbridge
Professor Paul Stewart
Dr Hazel Conley
Cardiff Business School
Cardiff University

Professor Edmund Heery
Cardiff Business School
Cardiff University
Aberconway Building
Colum Drive

Tel: 029 2087 4919
Fax: 029 2087 4419

Duration of Research
July 1999 - July 2002

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The purpose of this project is to assess the level, form and effectiveness of attempts by trade unions to represent employees with non-standard working arrangements. For the purpose of the research 'representation' has been defined in terms of attempts to organise non-standard workers, promote their participation in systems of union government and pursue policies in collective bargaining, union servicing and political action which promote their interests. The research will focus on four main categories of worker with non-standard working arrangements - part-timers, agency labour, fixed term contract staff and the self-employed - and will concentrate on three main industrial sectors where the use of non-standard work is extensive; retail and distribution, media and communications and education.

The research aims to describe the trade union responses to workers with non -standard contracts along a series of dimensions. These are: the extent to which unions seek to include or exclude non - standard workers from membership: the extent to which they develop distinctive arrangements for the representation of these groups or include them with members with standing working arrangements: and the extent to which the representation of non - standard workers has been accompanied by innovation in union recruitment practice, forms of participation and methods of servicing. The descriptive stage of the research will also consider the differentiation in union policy towards non-standard workers and whether some groups have been accorded priority.

The research also aims to explain the pattern of union responses to non- standard work and to test available theories of change in trade unions. Key issues which arise here include the manner in which policy is selected. For example, is a more active response a function of demand in the union's environment or does it arise from internal change within unions? Do union policies on behalf of non- standard workers emerge at the union centre or is innovation a function of dispersed decision making?

The research further aims to evaluate union policy on behalf of employees with non-standard working arrangements through two mechanisms. Firstly, through an assessment of union success in recruiting and organising non-standard workers, and secondly, through the development and application of a survey which will measure the satisfaction and commitment of these workers to trade unions.

Research Design
The research will employ a range of methods and will be conducted at different levels of the trade union movement. There are four main elements:

 a review and analysis of 'movement- wide' initiatives developed on behalf of non-standard workers by the Trades Union Congress

 an interview survey of all unions operating in the three industrial sectors (named overleaf) which will gather standardised information on union strategies to represent non- standard workers, and will be supported by the collection of documents and other data, including a content analysis of union journals

 case studies of union campaigns intended to recruit and organise non-standard workers. Examples of this include attempts by the TGWU to promote membership amongst part-time supermarket workers, the attempts by several unions to develop recognition and recruitment arrangements with employment agencies and attempts to organise contract workers in higher and further education. Case studies will be confined to a small number of unions and will be indentified through the interview survey

 an attitude survey of union members with non-standard working arrangements in the case study unions intended to identify and account for their aspirations, requirements, participation in, satisfaction with and level of commitment to their unions

Policy and Academic Implications
The research will be the first piece of academic research in Britain to address directly the relationship between trade unions and workers with non-standard or a-typical working arrangements and will also present a unique assessment of trade union policy making. Beyond the academic community, the research will be of primary benefit to the trade union movement and particularly union policy makers concerned with the development and evaluation of change in their organisations.