Labour Education And Extensive Employee Development Schemes Management Essay

I think its possible to examine both perspectives in this paper and then decide where you stand in the debate. In essence the assignment is asking you to consider how the various types of education that happen in unions (labour education – tools courses, issues courses, etc.) and employment development schemes empower workers to participate in decision-making processes in the workplace (i.e. democratic systems). Do these types of education within unions facilitate a more equal relationship between employers and employees than the education or learning that happens in non-unionzied organizations? Is it possible for workplaces to be run democratically? How does education contribute to establishing equity, empowerment and democracy in workplaces (if it does at all)?

Chapter 5 in Bratton et al. discusses many of types of education that unions offer, not only for stewards. While it might be difficult to go into detail about all these forms of education, the question is asking you to think about labour education broadly for workers and the labour movement.

The topic of the strategic relevance of human resource management in organizational strategies and business ideals offers a deep foray into one of the main ingredient that successfully underpins the achievement of leadership and managerial objectives. This insight impels the ongoing scrutiny into one of the key leverage of our current human resource management identified as employee development schemes. This assignment begins with an examination of trade unions and strategic HRM issues, will continue with a snapshot description of labour education and workers empowerment as popular organizational initiative and its objective of combining education as a management’s approach to workers’ empowerment.

Trade unions and strategic HRM

In the literature the new HRM model is depicted as ‘unitary’; it assumes that management

and workers share common goals, and differences are treated and resolved rationally. According to the theory, if all workers are fully integrated into the business they will identify with their company’s goals and management’s problems, so

that what is good for the company and management is perceived by workers as also

being good for them. Critical to achieving this goal is the notion of worker ‘commitment’

to the organization. This HRM goal has led writers from both ends of the

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political spectrum to argue that there is a contradiction between the normative HRM

model and trade unions. In the prescriptive management literature, the argument is

that the collectivist culture, with its ‘them and us’ attitude, sits uncomfortably with

the HRM goal of high employee commitment and the individualization of the

employment relationship including individual contracts, communications, appraisal

and rewards.

Much of the critical literature also presents the new HRM model as inconsistent

with traditional industrial relations and collective bargaining, albeit for very different

reasons. Critics argue that HRM policies and practices are designed to provide

workers with a false sense of job security and obscure underlying sources of conflict

inherent in employment relations. According to Godard, historically a major reason

for managers adopting ‘progressive’ [HRM] practices has been to avoid or weaken

unions. However, he does concede that ‘it would also be a mistake to view progressive

practices as motivated solely or even primarily by this objective’ (1994, p. 155).

Yet other industrial relations scholars, taking a more traditional ‘orthodox pluralist’

perspective, have argued that independent trade unions and variants of the HRM

model cannot only coexist but are even necessary to its successful implementation

and development. They argue that trade unions should become proactive or change

‘champions’ actively promoting the more positive elements of the ‘soft’ HRM

model. Such a union strategy would create a ‘partnership’ between management and

organized labour which would result in a ‘high-performance’ workplace with mutual

gains for both the organization and workers (Betcherman et al., 1994; Guest, 1995;

Verma, 1995). What is clearly apparent from a review of the literature is that this

aspect of the HRM discourse has been strongly influenced by political-legal developments

and the decline in trade union membership and power in the US and UK

over the last two decades. Therefore when you read Chapter 12 and the literature, it

is important to remember that the debate is set in the contextual developments in

the USA and Britain.

The idea of embedding worker commitment in HRM model has led to strong argument among writers, that, there is a contradiction between the HRM normative model and trade unions. In the prescriptive management literature, the argument is the collectivist culture, with ‘them and us’ attitude, sabotages the HRM goal of high employee commitment and the individualization of the employment relationship. Moreover, critics argue that, ‘high-performance-high-commitment’ HR strategies provide workers with false sense of job security, by hiding underlying sources of conflict, inherent in employment relations. However, other scholars with pluralist perspective argue that not only do trade unions and’high-commitment’ HRM model coexist but are indeed necessary if an HPWS is tosucceed (Bratton and Gold, 2003: 60). In addition, other researchers like Sparrow and Hiltrop (1994: 25) in

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Morley et al., (2006)identified a shift from the HRM function and its associated terrain to a strategic role in other areas of HRM activity. Thus, the greater emphasis on the integration of the human resource function into strategic decision-making, a decentralization of much activity to line managers, and pre-occupation with industrial relations and collective bargaining, has made way for a more SHRM activities such as communications, human resource development, workplace learning, career management and human capital accumulation


Empowerment is a concept that gained immense popularity in the 1990s and looks set

to continue as a popular organisational initiative in the twenty-first century. It is a managerial

ideology in its own right as well as being used with other initiatives and strategies

such as BPR, TQM and the learning organisation. It is strongly associated with culture

change initiatives, delayering and restructuring, and usually involves devolving power

and responsibilities to teams at workplace or customer level (Arkin, 1995).

Defining empowerment

Various one-dimensional definitions, of empowerment have emanated from the practitioner

literature. Typical of this view is Cook and Macaulay’s (1997) definition of

empowerment as ‘a change-management tool which helps organisations create an environment

where every individual can use his or her abilities and energies to satisfy the

customer’ (p. 54). Its all-embracing nature skirts over issues of how employees use their

abilities, and whether there are boundaries to responsibilities, the degree and type of

power employees enjoy, power relations between employee, managers, individuals,

teams, customers and the context of empowerment. Both Wilkinson (1998) and

Lashley (1997) have commented that empowerment is influenced by historical, economic,

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social and political factors, and in attempting a definition the context in which

it is practised must be considered. Wilkinson (1998) defines empowerment as a managerially

led initiative:

Unlike industrial democracy there is no notion of workers having a right to a say: it is employers

who decide whether and how to empower employees. While there is a wide range of programmes

and initiatives which are titled empowerment and they vary as to the extent of power

which employees actually exercise, most are purposefully designed not to give workers a very

significant role in decision making but rather to secure an enhanced employee contribution to

the organisation. Empowerment takes place within the context of a strict management agenda.

(p. 40)

Empowerment is thus a managerially controlled phenomenon operating at a workbased

rather than a strategic level within the organisation. Honold (1997) implicitly

acknowledges this by seeing empowerment as ‘control of one’s work, autonomy on the

job, variations of teamwork, and pay systems that link pay with performance’ (p. 202).

She further divides empowerment into five groupings: leadership, the individual

empowered state, collaborative work, structural or procedural change, and the multidimensional

perspective that encompasses the other four categories.

Multidimensional perspectives on empowerment

Honold’s (1997: 206) final category shows that one approach is insufficient for empowerment

to be effective. Others believe that combining education, leading, mentoring

and supporting, providing and structuring is more likely to enable empowerment systems

to be successful. Human resource systems should also be fully supportive of these

components, providing a contextual framework within which empowerment systems are

able to operate. This means linking the empowerment process to the vision, goals and

aims of the organisation, through HRD, reward systems and employee relations systems

combined with adequate feedback measures.


Bratton John and Gold Jeffrey (2003) Human Resource Management: Theory andPractice third edition London: Palgrave Macmillan

Morley Michael J., Gunnigle Patrick and Sullivan Michelle O, Collings David G. “Newdirections in the roles and responsibilities of the HRM function” Personnel Review Vol.35 No. 6, 2006, 609-617

Sparrow, P. and Hiltrop J. M. (1994), European Human Resource Management inTransition, Prentice-Hall, Hemel Hempstead

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