MHRERiC Case Study Coursework Assignment 2014-15
MHRERiC Case Study Coursework Assignment 2014-15
I need additional resources not only those in the case study ant it is mandatory to have new references.
MHRERiC Case Study Coursework Assignment 2014-15
The purpose of this case study assignment is to enable you to examine, in a critical and in-depth way, a key aspect of managing employment relations based on, and
adapted from, a real-life example. A two-part question has been set to provide you with a way of analysing the case study material; each part of the question is worth
50 per cent of the total marks available for the coursework assignment. It is important that you simply do not regurgitate the case study material uncritically;
rather you should use it, and other secondary sources, to enable you to address the questions posed. Therefore further background reading is essential. There is no
definitive way of structuring and presenting your answer, although it is strongly recommended that you include an introduction and appropriate conclusions. The
assessment criteria provide further guidance. There will also be an in-class assignment briefing. Completed assignments must be limited to a maximum of 2,500 words
(not including the bibliography).
Why do companies like BritCo operate non-union systems of employee voice? 50 per cent of the marks for the case study assignment
Critically assess the main managerial issues and challenges that arise when operating non-union employee voice arrangements of the kind evident in BritCo. 50 per cent
of the marks for the case study assignment
Your coursework assignment will be marked according to the extent to which you have:
* drawn on the information provided in the case study and other relevant material to address the questions posed;
* demonstrated systematic knowledge and understanding of the employment relations issues appropriate to the case study;
* shown a critical understanding of the employment relations issues discussed;
* used relevant secondary literature to inform and underpin your analysis of the case study;
* conveyed your arguments in a clear and logical manner.
Managing employee voice at BritCo
BritCo (a pseudonym) is a UK multinational telecommunications company which was privatised under the Thatcher government during the 1980s. In 2000 it acquired an
indigenous Irish company, becoming the second largest firm in its sector in the country. Five years later the BritCo business in the Republic of Ireland merged with
the existing Northern Ireland group, forming BritCo Ireland. It currently employs some 3,000 staff across the whole of Ireland, with about 2,000 in the Republic and a
further 1,000 in the North. While the business operates on an all-Ireland basis, the company’s HR approach is fundamentally different across the two jurisdictions.
In Northern Ireland, for example, BritCo Ireland is heavily unionised, with two unions recognised, one for engineers and call centre staff and another for management.
This is an inherited legacy of the company’s public sector past. In the Republic, however, BritCo’s business acquisitions were in the non-union sector; and the
company, in spite of the merger with the unionised North, has actively promoted a non-union relationship. This includes the development of a system of non-union
employee representation (NER). While the establishment of NER was in many respects shaped by a managerial concern to undermine support among the workforce for trade
union representation, it was also part of a wider organisational attempt to foster a more harmonious, unionfree environment.
The drive for union recognition in BritCo’s operations in the Republic was triggered by a number of grievances among employees, including increased fears of redundancy
and a perception that redundancy terms were low by the standards of the industry and inferior to those offered by the company in the North. An additional grievance
concerned the reluctance of BritCo management to divulge details of the company’s salary range. Many engineers based at its Dublin South site were also unhappy with
changes to the company car scheme. Yet even though individual grievances did exist, these tended to be underscored by a more general sense of injustice relating to
the lack of union recognition rights for BritCo Ireland employees in the Republic, compared to the arrangement in the North. A perception existed among employees in
the Republic that Northern Irish staff had more generous terms and conditions of employment because of this, particularly on issues like redundancy pay, time-off and
benefits. With these background factors in mind, the impetus for contact with the union came from a small, but determined group of engineers among the company’s
workforce in Dublin South. They had been union members for some years prior to the campaign for recognition. While overall union density in BritCo’s operations in
the Republic was estimated to be around 30 per cent, membership was concentrated in some areas such as among the Dublin South engineers and call centre staff. The
chief executive of BritCo Ireland said that the company opposed union recognition for two reasons. First, it would impede its capacity to operate on a cost basis
relating to price and flexibility. Second, he claimed that the union was too ‘biased’ towards its major competitor. Nevertheless, the union mounted a major campaign
for recognition, including a highly public campaign strategy designed to pressurise the company into negotiations and the targeting of BritCo Ireland’s chief executive
with a mass email drive.
As the campaign for union recognition in BritCo Ireland began to develop momentum, a hitherto inoperative ‘Information and Consultation Forum’ was strongly promoted by
management. It had originally been established in 2005 in response to the Republic’s Provision of Employee (Information and Consultation) Act 2006, and met the
requirements of a ‘pre-existing agreement’ under that legislation. It was formally designed to provide information on developments in the company’s activities and the
economic situation. Yet even management acknowledged that prior to 2007 the Forum was largely ineffective, with no coherent system of appointing employee
representatives and with discussion kept to a minimum. According to an HR manager:
‘It wasn’t a comfortable, open forum. It was more this is what we are going to talk about, and hopefully no one will ask any questions. Essentially the previous
chief executive gave a financial outline of how the company was doing and that was it’.
Meetings became so infrequent that the Forum had effectively become defunct by the beginning of 2007. However, a new Forum, re-labelled ‘BritCo Vocal’ in early 2007,
was promoted much more vigorously by management, meeting every four weeks instead of every three months. This coincided with the union’s push for recognition rights.
HR claimed that the Forum offered a ‘robust defence’ against the union. BritCo Ireland’s chief executive observed that the Forum was revamped because it would help to
‘combat how vocal the union was’. Moreover, the HR director noted that the Forum was revitalised with the hope that ‘employees wouldn’t see the need for a third
Whereas no coherent electoral system had existed in the previous Forum, under BritCo Vocal employee representatives were chosen through election, with typically one
representative per 100 employees. Previously the Forum included little more than a presentation by the chief executive on the financial performance of the company.
However, HR managers reported that BritCo Vocal meetings were far more substantial and inclusive; employee representatives were able to raise pertinent issues and
discuss matters of concern. Yet although the initial agenda driving the new Forum was to undermine the union, it was also seen as part of a wider strategy of
employment relations reform in the company. According to the chief executive:
‘…we believe that our business needs and the interests of our employees are better served through open dialogue and consultation using our full range of
communication channels, including our employee information and consultation forum’.
This approach was spearheaded by the arrival of this new chief executive in early 2007, who appeared committed to the notions of employee voice and commitment. In
addition to the new Forum, for example, other measures were developed to foster a more open culture of communication. Yet BritCo Vocal was not the only NER
arrangement deployed by management. In its first few months of operation this forum was perceived to be too dominated by issues relating to
engineers employed at the Dublin South site. Management felt that Dublin South issues were not only of a highly adversarial character, but were time consuming and
specific to that site. It therefore decided to remove Dublin South issues from BritCo Vocal and give the site its own Forum – the Southern Works Committee (SWC).
The early experience of the Forums suggests that the voice mechanisms functioned effectively. One of the first matters raised by employee representatives was the
widespread concern over potential redundancy payments on offer at BritCo Ireland. Through the BritCo Vocal forum, management explained that the terms presented in the
company handbook had simply been replicated from the original Irish company prior to the takeover. It conceded that a revised handbook was needed, and employee
representatives were involved in reviewing it. The outcome from this process was that aspects of the Northern Irish redundancy terms were introduced into the
Republic. However, management refused to extend the ‘no compulsory redundancy’ agreement which it had in the UK (including Northern Ireland) to the Republic. Despite
this, employee representatives expressed satisfaction with the manner in which the issue was handled by the Forum and the subsequent outcome. Not only did the company
manage to resolve a grievance which had been at the core of the union recognition campaign, but it also appeared to have delivered an effective consultative regime.
The BritCo Vocal Forum was found to be less satisfactory when employee representatives sought some resolution to the problem of non-disclosure of salary scales.
Furthermore, they felt that once management attempted to redress the underlying issues prompting union demands at the company, the range and scope of issues appearing
at the Forum substantially diminished. Representatives claimed that attempts to raise other substantive issues were taken off the agenda or glossed over by management
in meetings. This included growing employee concerns over the company’s performance management policies, and how they were being implemented. Repeated efforts by
employee representatives to have the matter raised as an agenda item were consistently ruled out by management, who asserted that as a core element of current
corporate strategy it was not up for discussion.
Employee representatives, and employees in general, recognised that the provision of information by management had improved upon what it was before the recognition
campaign. Nevertheless, they continued to highlight the limitations of BritCo Vocal as a vehicle for addressing the substantive concerns of the workforce. In 2008
three representatives resigned from the Forum, claiming it was ‘toothless’. The other forum covering the Dublin South site – the SWC – was also viewed by employee
representatives as being of limited effectiveness. It seemed to be useful for addressing minor, day-to-day operational issues; however, representatives found they had
little scope to influence company policy. Overall, then, the efficacy of the NER arrangements in fostering a more cooperative workforce climate was negligible. While
employees accepted that the forums, and wider changes in HR practice brought in since 2007, had enabled a greater flow of communication from management to the
workforce and had delivered on some grievances, substantive voice appeared to be lacking. According to an employee representative on BritCo Vocal:
‘I’m not saying that they would go and change things through Vocal; it is bit presented as if you have a chance to go and change things, it’s often a fait accompli,
very much information coming down. We get listened to, but whether we have substantial influence, no I doubt it’.
Dissatisfaction appeared to stem from the initial presentation of the Forum as a full-bodied employee involvement mechanism, and thus an effective in-house substitute
for an ‘external’ union. Management subsequently conceded that this was perhaps a mistake on their part, and that a shift in the emphasis was needed to manage
employee expectations. The HR director stated that:
‘It is an information and consultation forum; it is not a negotiation agreement, and it’s OK if we don’t agree with things because there are certain things we as
managers need to do as a business’.
Yet pursuing this line may further alienate BritCo Ireland staff, many of whom have aspirations of receiving full union recognition rights. The forums have been
unable to diminish employee demands for unionisation; indeed the issue of union recognition has remained the touchstone by which engineering and call centre employees
appear to measure the company’s commitment to a genuinely participative workplace culture.
In conclusion, then, BritCo Ireland initiated NER arrangements in part to supplant union influence in the company. However, there is more to the story than simple
union avoidance. The revitalised voice regime was not communicated to staff as a union avoidance mechanism, but rather was advanced as means of generating greater
employee involvement and commitment. This was not just a ploy by management to buy off the workforce. There was a clear intention on the part of senior management to
initiate a programme of engagement with employees across the organisation. This stemmed in part from the arrival of a new chief executive committed to the notion of
promoting a high-involvement culture, but also from a need to tackle a growing climate of mistrust that had arisen because of the recent merger and associated
restructuring. BritCo Ireland’s approach to NER both served to disrupt union organizing attempts while simultaneously establishing some measure of employee voice,
albeit on management’s terms. However, there have been difficulties sustaining the approach, due to a combination of managerial unwillingness and employee apathy and
frustration. At the core of the management strategy was a conundrum shaped by, on the one hand, efforts to defend managerial prerogative, and on the other, efforts
aimed at generating employee engagement through the structured involvement of the workforce. The dominant managerial interpretation of voice at BritCo was to view it
as the transmission of information to employees in order to assist change processes and, to a lesser extent, to conceive voice as a form whereby employees act as a
point of supply, offering ideas to complement organisational effectiveness. Successful and enduring NER arrangements are likely to require on-going managerial
support, dedicated employee representation, internal institutional supports and HR policies, and independence from management. After some initial evidence of mutual
gains at BritCo, the momentum did not last. The conditions were not in place at BritCo
for enduring mutual gains – the NER arrangements were not imbued with sufficient independence from management, gave employees too little power and were largely
restricted to information sharing. Ultimately, they did not measure up to employees’ expectations of independent representation.
Adapted from: Donaghey, J., Cullinane, N., Dundon, T., & Dobbins, T. (2012). ‘Non-union employee representation, union avoidance and the managerial agenda’. Economic
and Industrial Democracy, 33(2), 163-83.
Reading suggestions: ‘non-union employee voice’ and ‘non-union employee representation’
Butler, P. (2005). Non-union employee representation: exploring the efficacy of the voice process. Employee Relations, 27(3), 272-88.
Butler, P. (2009). Non-union employee representation: exploring the riddle of managerial strategy. Industrial Relations Journal, 40, 3, 198-214.
Butler, P. (2009). Riding along the crest of a wave: tracking the shifting rationale for non-union consultation at FinanceCo. Human Resource Management Journal, 19
Charlwood, A., & Forth, J. (2009). Employee representation. In W. Brown, A. Bryson, J. Forth, and K. Whitfield (Eds.). The Evolution of the Modern Workplace.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 74-96.
Charlwood, A., & Terry, M. (2007). 21st-century models of employee representation: structures, processes, and outcomes. Industrial Relations Journal, 38(4), 320-37.
Cullinane, N., Donaghey, J., Dundon, T., & Dobbins, T. (2012). Different rooms, different voices: double-breasting, multi-channel representation and the managerial
agenda. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 23(2), 368-84.
Dundon, T., & Gollan, P. (2007). Re-conceptualising voice in the non-union workplace. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18(7), 118298.
Dundon, T., Wilkinson, A., Marchington, M., & Ackers, P. (2004). The meanings and purpose of employee voice. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 15
Dundon, T., Wilkinson, A., Marchington, M., & Ackers, P. (2005). The management of voice in non-union organisations: managers’ perspectives. Employee Relations, 27
Gollan, P. (2003). All talk but no voice: employee voice at the Eurotunnel call centre. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 24(4), 509-41.
Gollan, P. (2006). Twin tracks: employee representation at Eurotunnel revisited, Industrial Relations, 46(4), 606-49.
Gollan, P. (2007). Employee Representation in Non-union Firms. London: Sage.
Gollan, P. (2010). Employer strategies towards non-union collective voice. In A. Wilkinson, P. Gollan, M. Marchington, & D. Lewin (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of
Participation in Organizations (pp. 212-35). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gollan, P., & Lewin, D. (2013). Employee representation in non-union firms: an overview. Industrial Relations, 52(S1), 173-93.
Gollan, P., & Wilkinson, A. (2007). Implications of the EU Information and Consultation Directive and the Regulations in the UK – prospects for the future of employee
representation. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18(7), 1145-58.
Hall, M., & Purcell, J. (2012). Consultation at Work: Regulation and Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hall, M., Hutchinson, S., Purcell, J., Terry, M., & Parker, J. (2013). Promoting effective consultation? Assessing the impact of the ICE Regulations. British
Journal of Industrial Relations, 51(2), 355-81.
Hall, M., &Terry, M. (2004). The emerging system of statutory worker representation. In G. Healy, E. Heery, P. Taylor, & W. Brown (Eds.). The Future of Worker
Representation (pp. 207-28). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Incomes Data Services (IDS) (2011). Employee consultation. IDS HR Studies, 949, September.
Kaufman, B., & Taras, D. (2010). Employee participation through non-union forms of employee representation. In A. Wilkinson, P. Gollan, M. Marchington, & D. Lewin
(Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Participation in Organizations (pp. 258-85). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kim, D-O. (2009). Employees’ perspective on non-union representation: a comparison with unions. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 30(1), 120-51.
Lloyd, C. (2001). What do employee councils do? The impact of non-union forms of representation on trade union organisation. Industrial Relations Journal, 32(4),
Terry, M. (1999). Systems of collective representation in non-union firms in the UK. Industrial Relations Journal, 30(1), 16-30.
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