Representative Employee Participation and Workplace-Level Innovation Processes: A Cross-National Qualitative Analysis of Labor Union Practices

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:45
Location: Seminarraum 5C G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Maarten HERMANS, HIVA - KU Leuven, Belgium
Monique RAMIOUL, HIVA - KU Leuven, Belgium
Labor unions in manufacturing sectors are cautiously engaging with strategies of “workplace innovation” and “employee driven innovation”. This involves dealing with topics that are traditionally considered management prerogative, incorporating forms of employee involvement that are less familiar or even in conflict with union structures, and adopting or re-working concepts and discourses such as “high performance work practices”, “employee involvement”, and “lean production”.

In this paper, we explore these tensions and both the pitfalls and opportunities of such strategies from a union perspective. We do so on the basis of a cross-national, qualitative-comparative analysis of both thirteen company cases, and interviews. These interviews on the topic of representative employee participation in innovation processes were conducted in 2015 with union officials, employers’ organization representatives, industrial relations researchers and policy actors in Belgium, Norway, Germany and Ireland.

The potential organizational-level pathways through which employee representative can engage in innovation processes are summarized and linked to the region- and country-level structural and institutional features that drive and sustain this engagement. We describe the challenges and required capabilities for such an engagement, for both employee representatives and their organizations. Finally, we locate and critically discuss this evolution in (self-perceived) labor union role in the wider historical debate on workplace democracy and employee engagement.