Postponed: BUIRA 70th Anniversary Conference 2020: The past, present and future of industrial relations and the politics of work

Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester

30th June to 2nd July 2020

Plenary Speakers:

Judy Wajcman

Anne McBride

Gail Hebson

Jane Holgate

Sian Moore

Kirsty Newsome

Jean Jenkins

Call for papers 

BUIRA turning 70 presents a good opportunity to reflect on the past, present and future of industrial relations. Despite facing recent challenges, the field of industrial relations continues to be a vital topic of academic and practitioner enquiry. Issues that have long been central within the study of industrial relations, such as pay, collective bargaining, rights at work, employee representation, national and transnational forms of regulation, health and safety, job (in)security, precarity, and workplace conflict are highly prominent within many current political and academic debates. Understanding the politics of work, grounded in a critical social science tradition, is crucial for academics and policy makers alike.  

IR continues to face a tough institutional environment. In the university, ‘HRM’ and ‘people and work’ has overtaken ‘industrial relations’ in the nomenclature of courses and modules. Within organisations and workplaces, trade unions continue to struggle to maintain a presence and voice for workers. While many university departments may nevertheless offer critical perspectives on work and employment, there is concern that the way ‘HRM’ is taught in some business schools may lack a sufficient diversity of perspectives and critical engagement with hegemonic neoliberalism. This in turn could lead to a potential ‘immiseration’ of the subject matter, and an inability to prevent or address trends such as the spread of precarious work, and the growing problem of in-work poverty (Dundon and Rafferty, 2018). At the same time, IR scholarship is often accused of being theoretically weak, suffering from a descriptive, and institutional bias, i.e. focusing on the dwindling institutions of trade unions and collective bargaining (Kelly, 1998). 

Where are we now? How have we got here, and what should the future of the field look like? Reflecting on historical developments in industrial relations is crucial in order to ground and contextualise current developments in the world of work. History matters in helping us to understand the changing nature of industrial relations, and yet is often overlooked in modern accounts of work relations. It is also important to reflect on pressing current issues such as the impact of austerity and the crisis in an increasingly financialised world. What have been their consequences for public sector industrial relations? What is the impact of patterns of precarious work and non-standard employment relationships on the changing nature of work and employment, skills and the quality of work? Across all of these questions, issues of social class, equality and diversity remain more relevant than ever before. Looking to the future, one key question concerns the extent to which unions can play an active role with social movements to tackle climate breakdown. 

We welcome empirical (both quantitative and qualitative), analytical, conceptual and methodological papers that concern any area of industrial relations, or fields cognate to industrial relations. We would particularly appreciate submissions from early career researchers and doctoral students. Papers concerning topics under the following headings will be particularly welcome:


Submission details

Abstracts of papers should be submitted here: 

Abstracts should be a maximum of 500 words in length and cover the following headings:

Extended Deadline for submission of abstracts: Monday, 27th January 2020

All abstracts are refereed anonymously by BUIRA Executive Committee members.

Conference fee £200 full and £100 PhD 


Dundon T and Rafferty A (2018) The (potential) demise of HRM? Human Resource Management Journal 28(3): 377– 391.

Kelly J (1998) Rethinking Industrial Relations: Mobilisation, Collectivism and Long Waves. London: Routledge