Workers' participation in management: insights from a case study.

AuthorMinz, Johnson Abhishek


Workers' participation in management is a theme commonly discussed within the realms of industrial relations. Literally, it means a participative arrangement of workers and management in running a firm. Participation in what terms however remains an area of inquiry. Although on a different note but within the ambit of industrial relations itself, collective bargaining forms an essential tool for rule making in a firm (Flanders, 1964). Collective bargaining is a term synonymous with trade unions and their activities. Workers in any industrial organization find a medium to voice their concerns through forming unions. Along with collective bargaining, workers' participation in management forms an essential component of cooperation in a firm and as Aryee (1988) puts it that participation can be perceived in as involvement in decision making or involvement so as to influence decisional outcome. Either way the task of participation is to eke out a say of the workers in the decision making process. Nonetheless, as Sarma (1990) points out that the concept of workers' participation in management is shrouded with much ambiguity connoting different meaning to different persons. Of course, this would be varying and would be different for different firms. The crucial point of enquiry however is being the effect it has on the industrial relations climate in a particular firm.

In its most recent notion of the term, workers' participation in management has been received with varying degrees of acceptance. Sarma (1990:282) accepts that "... the infusion of the participative system in India cannot be considered as one of widespread success" and that "... it has not made much impact on industrial relations". On a different note, Sethi (1973: 317) too puts it that participation in a rather advisory fashion where worker representatives acting as mere rubber stamps would qualify for a 'pseudo-participation' than actual terms laid down in the arrangement. Reasons such as these have situated workers' participation as a diminishing area of interest that has lost its steam over the period of time. However, a few cases have been worthwhile to take note of, also providing useful insights into avenues which need improvement. It is against this background that this paper attempts to present the case of a firm in which this concept has been highly successful with support for it from workers and management alike. This paper would also try and locate the reasons for workers participation gaining currency in the firm.


This is an organizational case study research. It is based on a single case of a steel manufacturing firm located in Eastern India. Primary data has been collected from the workers through a questionnaire survey tool. The questionnaire contained both open-ended and closed-ended questions. Close-ended questions were based on a five-point Likert scale. Interviews were also taken from select key respondents. Secondary data sources and organizational documents were also reviewed. The study has tried to be both descriptive and exploratory in nature. As pointed out earlier the firm studied singles out itself to present a unique case wherein contrary to the experiences of other firms, workers' participation has met with considerable success.

The Firm & Data Collection

The firm has been a major player in steel manufacturing in India since its inception and has been in existence for more than 100 years now. It is associated with philanthropy work and has been instrumental in introducing many generous labor reforms in the country. The data collection for the study was undertaken from August to October, 2011. The firm was categorized into three divisions namely CSI (Coke Sinter Iron), Long Products and Flat Products which were further sub divided into numerous departments. The total number of employees in these divisions, thereby constituting the universe of the study was 14,245, comprising both workers and supervisors. For the purpose of this study those who were directly linked to the production process excluding the maintenance and utility staff, were involved in the study and the persons only in the workers category were given the questionnaire. A non-probabilistic purposive sampling was used for the survey due to the field constraints. A total sample size of 303 workers were surveyed which was distributed equally among these three divisions.

Why Workers' Participation in Management

Around 18th century, the Industrial Revolution began in Britain and later on spread to other parts of advanced countries. The Industrial Revolution or the more recent managerial revolution (Chandler, 1977) came along with the setting up of modern business enterprises that contained a hierarchy of salaried executives. However, as Kauffman (2004) notes that the current discourse and the relations between those who managed work and those who performed work is something which has existed since human civilization began, although the practice of recognizing it as a matter of social concern is recent. The process of industrialization in Britain brought about the setting up of factories, mills and warehouses where associations of men came together and jointly participated in the production process. Briggs (1954) clarifies that these places were not only viewed as places of production but as places where men spent a significant time of their lives. Scholars studying industrialization concerned themselves not only with issues like output, sales, costs in the production process but also the social aspects of a newly laid down base for an industrial society. It is this that has laid down the foundations of the domain known as industrial relations (1).

Ghosh & Vall (1978: 55) brought out: "economically, early industrialization had impoverished the proletariat to a degree indicated by the term pauperization". The workers working in the factories and elsewhere had been reduced to 'marketable commodities'. Marx (1887) too had explained the degree of exploitation of labor in terms of the rate of surplus-value produced in a capitalist society. Consequently with the turn of the century, workers' participation as a means and a way of restoring the lost status came to the fore.

Modern industrial organizations face stiff competition where as they did not face any...

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