Testing the concept of the 'good employer' in a small enterprise context : central North Island : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Management in Human Resource Management at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
The assumption that small enterprise (SE) employers are paternalistic and favour an individualistic approach to managing the employment relationship and occupational health and safety (OHS) risk and, consequently, that SE terms and conditions of work are generally inferior to large enterprises (LEs) has not been tested in SEs in New Zealand. This study examined the concept of a 'good employer' regarding employment relations (ER) and OHS practices in SEs in New Zealand. It explored this concept through a framework developed from the International Labour Organization's (ILO) socially Decent Work Index (DWI) (Bonnet, Figueiredo & Standing, 2003; Standing, 1997) and the work that was carried out by Bewley (2006), Boxall (1991), and Hull and Read (2003).
A qualitative approach was adopted which involved conducting semi-structured interviews with 12 SE employers. In an attempt to capture high and low OHS risk industries, as well as a range of unskilled to highly skilled jobs, three employers from: the construction, manufacturing, service, and retail industry sectors were interviewed between July and August 2010. The interview schedule was developed from the Workplace Employment Relations Survey 2004 (WERS) (Kersley, Alpin, Forth, Bryson, Bewley, Dix, et al, 2006) to explore the key dimensions of a 'good employer': employment security, voice security, income security, skill reproduction security, and work security. The employers predominantly perceived the need to: promote a collaborative culture, adopt fair and understanding employment practices and provide a good work environment. How these 'good employer' perceptions, attitudes and beliefs were implemented in practice were explored by testing the adapted ILO framework of socially decent work.
The main themes emerging from the employers' perceptions corresponded with the two dimensions of the 'good employer' prioritized by the ILO (Bonnet, et al, 2003): employee voice security and work security, which are embedded in the Employment Relations Act (ERA) and Health and Safety in Employment Act (HSEA). Overall, these employers were considered as 'good employers' relative to arguments that a 'good employer' complies with the statutory employment minimum. However, when the characteristics of a 'good employer' were examined more closely subtle differences appeared between employers and these are best described on a continuum. At the one end employers appeared to be just compliant with basic statutory requirements while employers at the other end demonstrated higher levels of the characteristics that fitted with the concepts developed in large enterprises and the public sector.