Strathclyde's research supports trade unions in changing work scene

A team of researchers co-ordinated by Strathclyde Business School has shown that trade unions help maintain job quality for workers in changing employment conditions.

The contemporary work environment faces the challenge of ensuring job security and benefits for workers, while dealing with the ever-changing demands of the market. 

Doctoral and post-doctoral researchers from eight universities across Europe, members of the Marie Curie-funded Changing Employment project, presented a case analysis of the issue during a conference held at Strathclyde in November.

“The popular cultural idea of contemporary work would be the kind of work where we have control over tasks, over time, over the space where we perform our work,” said Julia Kubisa, a researcher from the University of Gothenburg.

The research investigated the meaning of flexibility nowadays, the increase in temporary work positions, the inclusion of immigrant workers, and questioned whether it is cost-cutting without bringing about any benefit for the workers.

 “Flexibility is how firms respond to the market and the ability to respond to change effectively. What is important for us is to look at how people react to the flexible conditions and the job quality,” Kubisa said.

The study highlighted the importance of trade unions in representing the needs and rights of workers in a context of flexibility.

The project researchers collected and studied different cases from public and private sectors, manufacturers, private and public services and temporary work agencies, comparing arrangements in various countries.

Pedro Mendonça, from Strathclyde Business School's Human Resource Management department, presented two examples of a transport firm and a malt manufacturing company involved in the production of whisky in Scotland, showing how unionised supply chains empower their workers.

“They are in a very powerful position. If the workers go on strike, the whole production comes to a halt,” Mendonça said.

A series of short films highlighted the condition of migrant workers in the UK and Europe, and the way they seek direct support from trade unions to ensure that their working conditions remain acceptable.

Strathclyde’s Early Stage researcher Radoslaw Polkowski created a 19-minute film to tell the story of Joanna, a middle-aged Polish woman who planned on migrating to England but ended up working in harsh conditions in a mushroom farm in Northern Ireland.

Joanna faced exploitation and decided to organise a trade union to fight for the dignity of herself and her co-workers.

“Joanna’s story is an example of the situations migrant workers and vulnerable categories are forced to deal with, and how important trade unions and organisations are in such circumstances,” said Polkowski.

The Changing Employment project explores the themes of work relations and working lives. The team of 15 Early Stage and Experienced Researchers is coordinated by Paul Stewart, professor of sociology of work and employment at Strathclyde Business School.

Changing Employment began its work in December 2012 under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development after being awarded over 4 million Euros of project funding.

The investigation is expected to be completed by November 2016.

This article was written by Sara Bresciani, BA Hons Humanities and Social Sciences as part of her Journalism course.

Original article published: 30 March 2016 at

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