New Worlds and Fresh Choices? Continuties and discontinuities in industrial relations practices in New Zealand's retail grocery supermarkets
Thesis DisciplinePolitical Science
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
A recurrent theme in recent industrial relations literature is that analysis should go beyond the study of institutions and systems. The analysis of industrial relations should also incorporate changes to political, ideological and economic environments, as well as the impact of new technologies and changing product markets. With the advent of the Employment Contracts Act in May 1991 this theme has gained greater currency within New Zealand. The de-centralisation of bargaining, and the emergence of employer-driven ways of organising the employment relationship, have given rise to a growing body of research into contemporary workplace "reform". This research has documented a widening diversity in industrial relations practices. This study seeks to extend this research by documenting this diversity, between different employers in the same industry. The focus of the study is the retail grocery industry. Utilising a longitudinal approach it examines significant infrastructural and environmental constituents of change and evaluates the different ways in which these have been used by employers in reworking the employment relationship in different enterprises and workplaces. The study is based on an extensive series of interviews conducted between 1990 and 1995, complemented by documentary material from industry, media and academic sources. Those interviewed included a cross-section of employers, managers and workers, as well as union officials involved with the industry. The findings disclose that the Employment Contracts Act was not the primary cause of innovation and change in this industry. Emerging patterns of workplace industrial relations display elements of continuity as well as change. Employer pursuit of greater workforce flexibility, impelled by competition and changing product markets, was formerly constrained by the operation of an overarchlng industrial relations framework. The removal of this framework, coupled with a low level of worker organisation and resistance, has legitimised former de-facto practices and set a new agenda for union survival.