'Spanner in the works' : trade union responses to sickness absence policy management within local government

  • James Main

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Through the prism of workplace union representatives (reps), the thesis explores the 'War on the Sickies', the shift towards stricter sickness absence policy (SAP) implementation within local government. By synthesising the literature on sickness absence management, labour process theory, workplace union organisation and workers' representation, the thesis delivers new insights to the sickness absence phenomenon, workers' resistance, union revitalisation, and the dialectics of individual and collective union representation. Utilising a case study approach, data has been gathered from a wide range of sources, including union and employer documentation, questionnaires, and individual and focus group interviews. Conceptualising the workplace as a 'contested terrain' where structured antagonism between employers and employees take place, stricter attendance management is viewed as a 'effort bargain' issue at the 'frontier of control' which has been shifted in employers' favour. The thesis affirms the continuing relevance of labour process theory to study of work and work organisations, utilising its core concepts such as labour indeterminacy, the structured antagonism between capital and labour, management control regimes, the frontier of control, and competitive accumulation imperatives. Workers' absence from work is seen as an important element in the construction of labour indeterminacy. While stricter attendance management, for inter-related cost, control and productivity reasons, pressured workers to come work when unwell and return prematurely, managerial prerogative did not go unchallenged, as union reps employed diverse strategies and tactics to defend their members. Although union organisations have been on the defensive in recent decades, this study of reps' organising activities suggest that, provided unions engage in the 'politics of production' and defend members at the 'frontier of control', they can stem decline and find renewal.
Date of Award5 Jun 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorPhilip Taylor (Supervisor) & Ian Cunningham (Supervisor)

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