Employee Relations in the Public Services: Themes and Issues

By Susan Corby; Geoff White | Go to book overview

6


Employment flexibility

Push or pull?

Ariane Hegewisch

Flexibility has been a central theme in government policy on employment and the management of public services in Britain for much of the last two decades. The European Commission (1997: 1) has identified the need to create ‘more flexible organisations in public services’ as one of the key challenges for creating employment growth and sustained competitive advantage for Europe. This concern with organisational flexibility is a reaction to the rapidly changing environment: a slowing down of economic growth, increased competitive pressures through globalisation, rapidly changing markets, the growing pace of technological innovation, and demographic pressure. The call for greater flexibility, which has emerged as a generic response to these challenges, is more easily defined by what it is not - rigidity, stability or predictability - than by what it is. The term can embrace anything from changing employment contracts to new organisation of work, from the management of diversity to organisational learning, delayering to the virtual organisation.

One way of trying to introduce greater clarity into the move towards flexibility has been differentiation between ‘economic pull’ factors and ‘social push’ factors. The first refers to employers’ search for greater flexibility in labour use in response to competitive pressures, particularly in relation to costs. The second refers to employees’ demands for greater flexibility and control over their working lives and the need to balance the requirements of paid and unpaid work.

In Britain the terms of the flexibility debate have been strongly influenced by one particular model, the model of the ‘flexible firm’, which provides one interpretation of the ‘economic pull’ factors. This chapter will begin by introducing the ‘flexible firm’ debate, followed by a brief review of employeeled pressures for greater flexibility. It will then review the empirical evidence for employment flexibility in public services along the lines suggested by the model: numerical flexibility, temporal or working time flexibility and functional flexibility. Evidence from the 1995 Cranet Survey allows us to examine trends in different parts of the public sector. The chapter will conclude by considering the implications of the move towards greater employment flexibility for management practices.

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Employee Relations in the Public Services: Themes and Issues
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Figures and Tables vii
  • Part I - Introduction 1
  • 1 - From the New Right to New Labour 3
  • Part II - Context 27
  • 2 - The Economic and Financial Context 29
  • References 51
  • 3 - The Legal Context 53
  • Part III - Issues 71
  • 4 - The Remuneration of Public Servants 73
  • References 92
  • 5 - Equal Opportunities 95
  • 6 - Employment Flexibility 114
  • 7 - Tendering and Outsourcing 136
  • 8 - Quality Management 156
  • Part IV - Players 175
  • 9 - Personnel Managers 177
  • References 195
  • 10 - Trade Unions 199
  • References 221
  • Index 225
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