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Who speaks for whom at work? Professor Tony Dundon on new processes and forms of worker voice

Through a body of research involving international collaborators, Professor Tony Dundon has provided research evidence on new processes and forms of worker voice that can enhance decent work goals, expose labour market inequalities, and support collaborative employment partnerships.

The research questions unequal power relationships, the effects of corporate restructuring and the persistent inequity of neo-liberal orthodoxy. 

Over the last few decades academic research has often neglected issues of power and influence concerning labour market institutions, employment regulation, models of collaborative partnership between workers, unions and employers, and systems for inclusion and wider stakeholder voice. 

The research in this impact case study was undertaken with policymakers, consultancies, employers, employer associations, trade unions, HR managers, workers, and shop stewards and non-union employee representatives and extends over a decade of collaborative scholarship. 

First, the research impacted employee voices at work for different labour market agents. For example, Professor Dundon highlights that the research results helped community and voluntary NGOs in Ireland to enhance labour market inclusion and social partnership, while similar research projects led by Professor Dundon uncovered innovative union bargaining tactics in the manufacturing sector in Ireland during times of recent austerity.

These added new insight about tactics to uplift workers’ wage in some areas. 

“Further evidence contributed to debates about the multiple meanings and purposes of employee voice, charting how simultaneous and overlapping voice channels can coexist, some of which challenge vested employer interests while others undermine worker influence. Data helped to redefine employee voice within the context of vested interests, which included knowledge as to why some anti-union employers deployed practices to avoid bargaining and trade union recognition, and thereby diminish worker voices. 

“The research around voice impacts also included newer issues to unpick fairer voice practices, new technologies and gig work related to the applications of equality, such as representative participation and informal social dialogue. These impacts connected with new learning curricula developed from the research by SIPTU’s Education College. Further, at workplace levels, examples in both Medtronic and Bank of China reported “noticeable organisational benefits in terms of mutual gains and reciprocity” and “positive working cultures and improved work-life balance”. 

 

“The second impact contribution is in relation to the transposition of employee information and consultation (I&C) regulations across European levels, addressing research gaps about how organisations respond to new employment regulations across different sovereign jurisdictions. The research positioned how employer’s capture regulatory power and constrain workers from triggering their legitimate rights for voice. 

Reported influences of the research include how the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Britain’s national equality body, shaped government reports around equity access to voice and participation”. 

In addition, from continuing collaborations with co-researchers from the Work & Equalities Institute at the University of Manchester, Professor Dundon was invited to present research impacts to a UK House of Commons Select Committee in 2019 on new technologies and artificial intelligence. This policy area of Dundon’s research had a direct influence on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) national ‘Working Lives Survey, with new questions added to its survey instrument form the results of the research. The CIPD is the leading professional body for HR practitioners in the UK and Ireland (and worldwide), with over 150,000 members.

Thirdly, according to Professor Dundon, “it has impacted labour market reforms for enhanced collective bargaining, work skills and work futures. Some of these impacts include strategies adopted by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) for organising and mobilising union and members under conditions of austerity”. 

Related labour market policy impacts includes contributions to restructuring Ireland’s apprenticeship scheme, with the Minister of State confirming that Professor Dundon’s research has had a positive influence in “supporting the country’s competitiveness through positive labour market activation”, with new skills and training opportunities for both younger people and more women especially. 

Concluding, Professor Dundon says that “overall, the three broad research impact areas are substantial, combining several projects, spanning over a decade of research around the coherent theme of voice and influence at work. Importantly, the research has a focus on neglected actors and groups in the labour market. 

Indeed, university business school research can often relate exclusively to corporate interests, rather than wider societal organisational concerns. 

“While corporations and business school researchers pride themselves on cost-cutting efficiencies and presumed corporate savings, the research in this impact case report takes an altogether different angle by considering issues affecting communities who encounter labour market polarisation, work fragmentation and unequal power due to such corporate restructuring and neo-liberal orthodoxies. 

Therefore, what research is about and whom it involves are, for impact, important human facets for equity and justice that the impact case illuminates”. 
-  Andrew Carey

The full details of the impact case can be found here