Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Some Willingness to Engage: A Survey of Employment Relations Practices and Employee Voice Opportunities in SMEs in Regional New Zealand

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Some Willingness to Engage: A Survey of Employment Relations Practices and Employee Voice Opportunities in SMEs in Regional New Zealand

Article excerpt


Although researchers recognise the important contribution small and medium enterprises (SMEs) make to innovation, job creation and economic development, the plethora of literature focusses on finance, marketing and operational management in SMEs (Wilkinson, 1999). Researchers also draw attention to a dearth of information on employment management practices and issues in SMEs (Coetzer, Cameron, Lewis, Massey & Harris, 2007; Edwards, Ram, Gupta & Tsai, 2006; Forth, Bewley & Bryson 2006; Lamm, Massey & Perry, 2007; MED, 2004; NZHRC, 2010; Wilkinson, 1999; Woodhams, Howard, Johri,Shulruf & Yee, 2007). The main assumption is that SME employers are paternalistic and favour an individualistic approach to managing the employment relationship and occupational health and safety (OHS) risk (Atkinson & Curtis, 2004: McDonald, 2005; Wilkinson, 1999). This assumption is compatible with unitarist ideological beliefs and is a significant issue as the literature shows that the unitarist management norm to protect managerial prerogative prevails in New Zealand workplaces (Geare, Edgar & McAndrew, 2006; 2009) as well as Australian SMEs (McDonald, 2005). Patmore (2015) argues that Australian and New Zealand legislative regimes that are reliant on voluntary participation may contribute to a unitarist workplace culture. The available literature also suggests there may be some tension between employment practices in SMEs and pluralist assumptions embedded in legislative employment protections, albeit eroding protections.

This article forms one part of a larger research project to determine the inter-relationship of employment relations practices and OHS outcomes in SMEs through the concepts of the good employer and decent work. The project addresses the lack of research on the inter-relationships between employment relations (ER) and OHS systems and practices, particularly in SMEs. The significance of the project lies in examining the complex relationships between management practices and systems, and how these influence the control of hazards and risks in the SME workplace.

Definitions of size vary between countries and over time (Forth et al., 2006; Storey, Saridakis, SenGupta, Edwards & Blackbrun, 2010; Wilkinson, 1999). Definitions of large enterprise also vary within New Zealand. Whereas Coetzer et al., 2007 and Knuckey, Johnston, Campbell-Hunt, Carlaw, Corbett & Massey, 2002 define them as over 50, Ryan and Fursman, 2005 and Woodhams et al., 2007 define them as employing over 100 employees. The definition of small enterprises (SE) and medium enterprises also varies widely in international studies, however, fewer than 20 employees is commonly used to define SEs in New Zealand (Coetzer et al., 2007; Knuckey et al. 2002; Legg, Battisti, Harris et al., 2009) and Australia (Kotey & Slade, 2005). This study adopts the New Zealand Business Demography Statistics (Statistics NZ, 2013) classification of enterprise size, i.e. SEs employ less than 19 employees, and medium enterprises employ 20-49 employees. As SMEs employing between 1-49 employees contribute a third of the GDP (MBIE, 2014) there is a growing need to understand the policies implemented in practice in these enterprises.

The article also provides an insight into SME management practices and reviews relevant literature on employee voice in the determination of pay and terms and conditions of work and operational decisionmaking. The remainder of the article focuses on the survey methodology, results and findings.

Management Practices in SMEs

The literature supports the perception that compliance will not be sufficient if the employer wants to gain strategic advantage, by attracting and retaining an appropriately skilled and motivated workforce who fit into the organisation (Bewley, 2006; Boxall, 1991; Department of Labour (DoL), 2003, Hull & Read, 2009; Sengupta, Edwards, & Tsai, 2009). However, employment management practices will differ between large enterprises (LE) and SMEs. …

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