Surviving lean injury, redundancy and retirement in the lean society

Stewart, Paul and Murphy, Ken (2009) Surviving lean injury, redundancy and retirement in the lean society. In: 27th International Labour Process Conference, 2009-04-06 - 2009-04-08.

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This paper considers the impact of lean working practices on employees’ health at work, at home and in their communities. The research on which the paper is based examines the legacy of working life on people in their retirement or redundancy. The retirees and redundant workers in our sample were employed in five sectors; local government, housing, autocomponents, automotive assembly and the NHS. We assess the relationships between working practices, including lean production, workplace health and safety, and retirement or redundancy. Two crucial issues require close scrutiny. The first comprise the following interrelated concerns. To what degree do contemporary management practices impact upon employees’ reasons for taking early retirement or redundancy? Did managers decide on criteria for redundancy, (Burchell et al 2002) and was this achieved in collaboration with trade unions. Alternatively, was it an individual preference? For this question we will be examining the relationship between chronic injury, and/or mental stress, and their affects on the severance or redundancy package obtained. Second, where people leave at the statutory retirement age, how has the nature of their previous work, together with workplace regime, affected the way in which they experience retirement? While there is some research, by Burchell et al (2002), associating new forms of work, including forms of flexibility, with the criteria management use for deciding on redundancies, there is an absence of publish research into the consequences of lean working on individuals’ decisions to take redundancy and/or retirement. What was it like for them, for those who are forced out of employment earlier than they would have wished, or anticipated, and what methods were used to achieve management aims? Moreover, while of course we have considerable evidence highlighting the use of retirement as a means to achieve redundancy ( MacKenzie et al, 2006), we require research into how lean working regimes link to a political economy of redundancy and retirement with very particular effects upon people at home and in their communities. In other words, we are concerned not only with the origins and event of redundancy/retirement but with the continuities between experiences in and post work in respect of managerial ideology and the commoditisation central to lean cultures of consumption. This is one way to draw links between labour processes and the new productivist discourse of lean. Finally, all this is of particular importance because while trade unions have often been very effective were they can impact upon redundancy packages and employee protections, we know very little about what happens to people ‘after lean’. The paper will seek to link employees’ experiences of work regime, including their redundancy, or retirement experience, to what happens to them subsequently, in terms of their health and the quality of their lives at the end of their employment. Typically, the redundancy package is defined in monetary terms but where we understand more about the physical and psychological consequences of the end of an employees’ working life, we will be better able to require that former employers pay more. For us, this is another way of saying that the redundancy package, together with a monetary compensation value, fails to recognise a specific, and hitherto unrecognised, physical value in terms of long term health costs. This is vital in beginning to raise the debate about who pays for the social and economic costs incurred in the creation of redundancies in the context of the lean society. We would argue that, typically, this is covered by the social wage in respect of NHS and other welfare agencies but this passing the buck has been too easily accepted. Knowing more about the consequences of lean working will allow us to argue for an agenda which places the cost of lean work more squarely on the employer. It could be seen to being analogous to the new environmental consensus, of making the polluter pay.