'Pressed for time' : a comparative two-sector study of changes to working time in supply firms

Newsome, Kirsty and Cunningham, Ian (2012) 'Pressed for time' : a comparative two-sector study of changes to working time in supply firms. In: 30th International Labour Process Conference, 2012-03-27 - 2013-03-29. (Unpublished)

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Introduction: The study of changes to working time is one of continuing importance in understanding how management innovates at the level of the labour process to secure reductions in labour costs. Competitive pressures through globalisation, for example, are creating a ‘precariat’ that faces curtailment of control over working time through, for example, on-call, zero hours contracts and increasing the time someone must put aside for labour without actually undertaking in it (Standing, 2011). Outsourcing and sub-contracting represent other key competitive features of the global economy. The focus of this paper is to explore how the growth of outsourcing and the subsequent power dynamics across inter-organisational relations between firms helps us understand the rationale and growth of management approaches to gain greater temporal flexibility and its impact on workers in supplier organisations. Context: Recent studies that have explored the impact of inter-organisational relations on employment have adopted a broad canvas placing changes to working time as part of a wider analysis of the employment effects of outsourcing. Here, purchasers within supply chains have been seen to increasingly determine the terms and conditions of workers in supplier organisations (Marchington, et al, 2005). This influence has been generally perceived to be detrimental as such relations have been linked to rising employment insecurity, downward pressure on pay and conditions, the undermining of worker voice and less-discretion-based work roles among employees in supplier organisations (Marchington et al, 2005: Cunningham, 2008: Newsome, 2010; Quinlan et al, 1999 and 2001). Such studies have also, with a few exceptions (see Marchington, et al, 2005), been focused on individual sectors, and offer limited comparative analysis across different spheres of economic activity. Within these debates the subject of changes to working time within supplier organisations has been touched on, but there are several related reasons to engage more fully with the dynamics of such change and its consequences within this context. The first relates to contemporary interest in the extent to which outsourcing, competition, marketization is leading to workers losing control over their working time, in order to meet the demands of external purchasers in a supply chain. Indeed, such debates are increasingly spilling into the realm of outsourced public service industries (Kessler and Bach, 2011): leading to questions regarding to what extent are changes to working time and their effects on workers becoming common across private, public and voluntary spheres. The second concerns the issue of changes to working time being identified as key area of worker insecurity (Standing, 1991). Yet studies of the impact of insecurity in the workplace have largely focused on tenure, the impact of numerical flexibility and changes to skills (Heery and Salmon 2000). This is of some surprise given that working time is a health and safety issue regulated by EU regulations and concerns continue to be raised over how unsocial hours etc. matched with ‘lean’ working systems impact detrimentally on employee health and well-being. In this context, this paper seeks to explore the above themes by drawing from work from two independently conducted qualitative research programmes exploring the changing dynamics of employment relations and work organisation in the supply chains of retail services/food production and purchaser/provider relationships in social care. The studies interviewed representatives of purchasers in supplier chains and managers, employees and trade union representatives in supplier organisations. In doing so the paper addresses the following questions: What is the nature of purchaser – provider relations in the two sectors? What impact do power relations, competitive and cost pressures have on the organisation of working time in supplier organisations? What are the implications for workers in terms of their effort, commitment, health and well-being?