Loyalty or Disaffection? Employee Commitment to Company and Union in a Hong Kong Bus Company

By Chan, Andy W.; Snape, Ed | International Journal of Employment Studies, April 2002 | Go to article overview
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Loyalty or Disaffection? Employee Commitment to Company and Union in a Hong Kong Bus Company


Chan, Andy W., Snape, Ed, International Journal of Employment Studies


This article reports the findings of a study of employee attitudes to the employer and trade unions in a Hong Kong bus company. In particular, the article examines the factors influencing employee commitment to company and union, and explores the extent to which there is evidence of dual commitment. The findings are interpreted in light of the development of industrial relations in Hong Kong.

INTRODUCTION

In this article, we report the findings of a study of employee attitudes to their employer and trade unions in a Hong Kong bus company'. Following an introduction to the Hong Kong industrial relations system and to the company, the article examines the factors influencing employees' commitment to the company and to the union. A range of demographic, job-related, work environment and industrial relations factors are examined. Secondly, the article explores the extent to which commitment to company and union are compatible. Does commitment to company and union reflect mutually exclusive loyalties, with commitment to one consistent with disloyalty to the other? Alternatively, is there evidence of so-called 'dual commitment', or 'dual loyalty', with employee s showing similar levels of commitment to both?

There is a well-established literature on such issues, particularly in North America, but also in other Western countries and in Japan (see, for example: Fullagar and Barling, 1991; Gordon and Ladd, 1990; Journal of Organisational Behaviour special issue, Vol 16, 1995; Reed et al, 1994). Less common, however, are studies of union and dual commitment in South East Asia. Our study can thus be seen as an attempt to test the generalisability of the North American research findings to the South East Asian context, important given the distinctive features of the Hong Kong system of industrial relations, and the cultural differences between Hong Kong and the West.

THE CONTEXT OF HONG KONG INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS

The labour movement in Hong Kong is generally characterised as weak and fragmented (Turner, 1980), with very limited development of workplace unionism (Levin and Chiu, 1993). Employers tend to unilaterally determine wages and conditions with little or no involvement by employees or their unions (Ng, 1984). Past research has suggested that around five percent of employees were covered by collective agreements (Yeung, 1988), although even this has probably declined with the recent wave of restructuring and staff reductions. Even in the public services, where unions are better established, they are in a consultative role rather than being partners in fully-fledged collective bargaining (England, 1989). In spite of some encouragement from the government's Labour Department, dating back to the early 1970s, the development even of joint consultation has been limited in the private sector, being restricted mainly to large organisations in transport and the utilities (Yeung, 1988; Lee, 1994). However, unions are not without significance, and in the public sector and in sectors such as transport and utilities, unions have exerted a degree of influence.

Having inherited the British 'voluntarism' in labour administration, Hong Kong has no statutory provision for mandatory collective bargaining and collective agreements are not legally binding (Chow and Ng, 1992) (2). Employers tend not to recognise or establish a regular dialogue with trade unions or staff associations within the enterprise. Thus, whilst workers are free to join, it is often difficult for a union to maintain support where it cannot influence terms and conditions of employment.

In the past, many workers have joined unions out of loyalty to the political cause championed by the union, and within an enterprise there may be more than one union serving a particular group. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, the two main union federations were the proChina Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) and the pro-Taiwan Hong Kong and Kowloon Trades Unions Council (TUC).

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