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Professor Peter Turnbull: Can work get any worse? Working in the Single European Market

Tuesday, April 9, 2019 
5:00 PM – 7:00 PM 
Swanston Academic Building (Building 80),  
Level 6, Room 5, 445 Swanston Street, Melbourne 


Professor Peter Turnbull will draw on his work on transport to refer to CRIMT themes of institutional experimentation and better work.

“Empirical studies of (strategic) human resource management (HRM) offer support for investments in people that enhance their skills and increase the (opportunity) costs of job switching (e.g. by paying a wage above the worker’s ‘transfer earnings’, otherwise known as ‘rent-sharing’). 

This enables the firm to retain valuable human capital that (over time) becomes difficult for rivals to emulate (due to path dependencies, social complexity and causal ambiguity). Researchers invariably draw on the ‘resource-based view’ (RBV) of the firm to explain these empirical results as investments in human resources are deemed to be valuable, rare, inimitable, non-substitutable, and can be exploited through organisation (VRINO), most notably via adroitly managed HRM policies and practices. However there are two distinct causal mechanisms that explain how firms create economic rents (i.e. above normal returns on their investments), namely resource-picking (selecting resources) and capability-building (developing resources) (Makadok, 2001). 

Both the theory of strategic HRM and the empirical evidence purported to support the RBV tends to overlook the possibility of rent generation via strategic factor markets (SFMs) as these markets (e.g. the external market for labour) are typically assumed to be ‘perfectly competitive’ (Chadwick and Dabu, 2009: 262). Put differently, strategic HRM looks inside rather than outside the firm to explain the relationship between people and performance. But what if the firm is a monopsonist (single-buyer) in the labour market? What if the firm can recruit labour from many different labour markets with different standards of living and very different labour laws? Most firms in Europe compete in a single product market (e.g. transport markets with full cabotage) but can hire labour from 28 different labour markets (soon to be 27 in the event of Brexit). 

The result is very high profits (performance) but some of the worst conditions of employment imaginable in a trading bloc that purports to be a ‘social market’ and not simply a ‘single market’ (e.g. bonded labour and other forms of modern-day slavery). Surely work in sectors such as (international) transport cannot get any worse?”

~ Prof. Peter Turnbull


About our guest:

Professor Peter Turnbull joined the Department of Management at Bristol University in 2015 after 18 years as Professor of Human Resource Management & Labour Relations at Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University.
He previously held posts at the Universities of Leeds, Warwick and London School of Economics, and visiting professorships and fellowships at Queen’s University (Belfast), La Trobe, Monash, Melbourne and Sydney (Australia) and Cornell (USA). In 2011, Professor Turnbull was Visiting Academic Fellow at the International Labour Organization (Geneva).
Professor Turnbull is a graduate of the University of Leeds (BA Econ), Warwick University (MA Industrial Relations), and Cardiff University (PhD, Conflict on the Waterfront). He is an Academic Fellow, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and a member of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Arbitration Panel.

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