Jean Jenkins, Cardiff University
This presentation is based on the first findings of our research into access to remedy for workers in garment factories in Bangalore, India as part of the Operationalising Labour Rights Project that is funded by the ESRC Global Challenge Research Fund. The research involves systematic, survey-style recording of grievances that have been referred by workers to their small grass roots trade union. Currently, we have data on some 200 such cases collected between September 2018 and September 2019.
In the process of tracking workplace grievances from inception to resolution, we find that the human resource management (HRM) function is deeply involved in the blocking of access to remedy. We have recorded instances of HR officers’ behaviours, ranging from careless negligence of key bureaucratic functions, to abuses such as false and forced statements of resignation, forced written statements of apology from workers, lengthy and inconclusive appeals processes all the way through to practices such as requiring workers to stay in the HR office (as a sanction or part of a process of intimidation) for many hours or even days at a time. Such intimidation is likely to intensify if the worker is identified either as a trade union sympathiser or being ‘outspoken’ in defence of their interests.
Empirically, the paper reveals workplace realities that are generally hidden from scrutiny.
Theoretically, it contributes to deeper understanding of the role of HRM in a highly competitive global value chain where societal norms, gendered employment practices and multiple levels of socio-economic disadvantage underpin the exploitation and commodification of labour. These findings are particularly relevant in a wider context where the HRM function is increasingly likely to be conflated with compliance with voluntary labour codes (see, for example, Bartley, 2018; Jayansinghe, 2016). Our research would suggest this to be, at best, an erroneous assumption. In reality a weak and ineffectual HRM function generally provides a smokescreen for highly exploitative conditions of work which are likely to be further degraded post-Covid 19.
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