Just Work in Greater Manchester:
Challenges to developing and sustaining decent work
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EWERC is joining forces with FairWRC over the next three years to undertake an ambitious programme of research on the topic of ‘Just work: challenges to developing and sustaining decent work’. With funding secured from the Lord Alliance research budget for AMBS, the inter-disciplinary team of more than a dozen colleagues across the two centres and two Research Associates, Jo Cartwright and Mat Johnson, started in February 2016. The aim is to produce a theoretically compelling and insightful empirical analyses of the challenges facing the development and sustaining of ‘just work’ in the UK and more specifically in the Greater Manchester area.
Motivations for the ‘Just Work’ programme
The project builds on the combined activities of EWERC and FairWRC research and engagement activities undertaken in recent years, especially the work with the ILO, TUC, European Commission, EHRC and UK government departments in seeking to identify routes to more decent work and to generate greater security for the most vulnerable. The idea behind the Just Work programme is that, against a backdrop of changing regulatory, economic, political and technological conditions, managers are forging new social contracts in the workplace. These new social contracts are potentially enabling and hindering the long-term capacities of UK organisations to develop productive, dignified and sustainable work – this is captured in this research programme by the phrase ‘just work’.
Developing a set of common resources
A mixed methods approach will develop a set of common resources which will be explored and developed by multidisciplinary teams investigating four linked research questions. The common data bases will include:
- a qualitative data-set of organisational case studies in the North West region to investigate a range of challenges for equality, fairness and sustainability in the workplace (and designed as the first stage of an innovative longitudinal series);
- qualitative interviews with those excluded or on the margins of formal employment (e.g. migrants, disabled, youth);
- secondary data analysis, including longitudinal panel analysis and statistical modelling to understand employment trends; and
- international comparative analysis (policy framework evaluations and secondary data analysis) to disentangle the systemic and societal conditions shaping the capacities of the UK to sustain just work.
The data collection and analysis will be guided by four research questions. Each question builds on EWERC and FairWRC expertise, as well as other linked-in UoM and external colleagues:
Q1: How are organisations in the North West restructuring their activities and work/employment practices in the context of changing technologies and changed economic conditions?
Q2: How are employers responding to the increasingly diverse workforce (reflecting varied life courses, care responsibilities, careers, skills and employability)? What are the prospects for the development and promotion of inclusive labour markets?
Q3: What new institutions are needed to enforce fair rights and responsibilities at work given the changing global business environment and regulatory capacity of the state?
Q4: How are questions of dignity and fairness understood by different actors (managers, unions, workers) in the workplace and how do these connect (or not) with wider societal norms?
Impact and outputs of the Just Work research programme
The Just Work research programme will have significant research outputs and a carefully designed schedule of impact activities. Four reports (accompanied by Research Briefings) will present the findings of each research question listed above. The Briefings will be disseminated at three workshops jointly organised with policy@manchester, including one with New Economy provisionally titled ‘A just workplace: Spotlight on the Northern powerhouse’. Engagement activities will also join up with University colleagues involved in the ‘Just Greater Manchester’ initiative –see http://www.jgm.manchester.ac.uk/.
As well as academic publications, a key innovation will be the development of a series of online cases, derived from the Just Work research, which will hopefully inspire new pedagogic tools as well as policy debate. Building on EWERC and FairWRC capacity building, our impact activities will target specific organisational stakeholders in the UK (e.g. ACAS, EHRC, HSE, CIPD, TUC), Europe (EuroFound, European Commision DG Employment, ETUI) and international (ILO).
Damian Grimshaw, Miguel Martinez Lucio, Jill Rubery & Helge Hoel