4th BUIRA PhD Symposium

University of Leeds

Click here to download the programme.

The 4th BUIRA PhD Symposium took place at the University of Leeds on November 10-11, 2016. It marked nearly a decade since the inception on the BUIRA PhD Network. Having engendered as a narrow circle of doctoral students in the field of industrial relations the network expanded rapidly to a wide community of students and early career researchers in the domain of labour market studies, employment relations and human resource management. The symposium started off with an engulfing debate on the workplace partnership, led by Professor Peter Ackers of De Montfort University and Professor Mark Stuart of the University of Leeds. Both discussants are prolific writers on the topic in question, acclaimed for a substantial contribution to our understanding of the origins and outcomes of the workplace partnership in Britain. While Professor Ackers presented a particularly upbeat image of partnership, stressing that in a long run it is by far the most efficient means of tackling workplace inequality, Mark Stuart added a pinch of salt to the debate. Using a prominent metaphor in the partnership literature, Professor Stuart emphasised that overall success of partnership hinges upon trade unions’ capacity to put the boxing gloves on when employers are not open to dialogue but to always have a shining tuxedo in the wardrobe provided employers are keen to dance. Yet, as Professor Ackers noted, boxing in a long run is not sustainable, as it leaves trade unions with bruises and deprives employees of benefits they could have acquired otherwise. Both speakers agreed that workplace partnership is not a zero-sum game, although some essential conditions ought to be in place to make the partnership framework viable and sustainable. Whether workplace partnership is indeed a light of hope in the tunnel of growing inequality at work remains to be seen. The best excerpts of the debate will be available shortly on the BUIRA website.

The main part of the Symposium was composed of student presentations and workshops. Twelve oral presentations were delivered over the course of two days, covering the most topical issues across the fields of industrial relations, sociology of work and human resource management. The presentations covered the future of trade unions as economic and political actors. Carol Jess of the Victoria University of Wellington presented an interesting case of trade unions in New Zealand while David Evans (Strathclyde University) concentrated on a more general framework of political economy in industrial relations. A topical question of skill development through apprenticeships was a central point of the presentation delivered by Maisie Aufderhorst-Roberts of the University of Leeds, who compared the apprenticeship levy in the UK with prominent apprenticeship schemes in Germany. Different facets of the sociology of work were debated too, focusing on methodological issues and reflexivity relating to the case study of offshoring (Sylvia Courtnage), meaningful work in public health services (Pauline Davis), community sector employees (Natasha Choudary) and employer associations (Philippe Demougin), women at work and gender pay gap (Carole Williams and Camille Heslop-Martin).

Of particular interest was a special session on research with impact, led by Dr Jo Cutter of the University of Leeds. The session concerned the so-called Stern Review and forthcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF), marked by growing emphasis on high-quality outputs and incremental influence of impactful case studies. The simple reality of the academic labour market for doctoral students and young career researchers can be summed by one simple question: ‘Are you REFable?’ Having said that, while often perceived as a curse, REF can be a helpful tool for developing a long-term research strategy and embedding impact into the research agenda.

The Symposium’s final accord was the election of network convenors. Danat Valizade and Ralph Buiser, who steered the network over the past three years, stepped down and handed the baton to Maisie Aufderhorst-Roberts and Calum Carson, both are PhD students at the University of Leeds. This marked the start of a new chapter in the already eventful history of the BUIRA PhD Network.

Watch a video of the partnership debate below.