Employment Relations in the Hospitality and Tourism Industries

Dennis Nickson (University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 1 October 2004




Nickson, D. (2004), "Employment Relations in the Hospitality and Tourism Industries", Employee Relations, Vol. 26 No. 5, pp. 567-569. https://doi.org/10.1108/01425450410550518



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

On its publication in 1995, Managing Employee Relations in the Hotel and Catering Industry was exceptionally well received and rightly praised for its comprehensive and original review of employee relations/HRM in the hospitality industry. In this revised version of her earlier work, Rosemary Lucas could have rested on her laurels and produced more of the same. It is to her credit that this new book goes significantly beyond the scope of the earlier publication, whilst also retaining many of the features that made the original work such a seminal contribution to our understanding of employee relations in one of the largest employing sectors in the UK.

The continuity with the previous book is largely provided by the utilisation of data covering the hospitality sector from the Workplace Employee Relations Survey (WERS). The use of WERS allows for a sectorally focussed comparison with other private sector service organisations and organisations across the economy as a whole, thus placing hospitality within a broader context. Importantly, though, Lucas' use of the WERS data from 1998 is significantly enhanced by the inclusion for the first time of data generated from 1,100 employee responses, which to a degree leads towards something of a reassessment of the nature of employment relations in the hospitality industry.

The interrogation of the WERS data lies at the heart of the book and allows for a comparison between hospitality organisations and other parts of the economy across a range of issues such as pay, equal opportunities/managing diversity, representation, participation and involvement, grievance and disciplinary procedures and so on. It is here where the book remains an essential read for anybody who wishes to gain an understanding of the nature of employment relations in the hospitality sector and particularly why such employment is characterised as “vulnerable” by Lucas. Such vulnerability is largely explicable by the adoption of “low road” HR practices by many hospitality employers and the lack of a trade union presence, with Lucas citing figures suggesting that trade union density in the sector may be as low as 2 per cent. The broad contextualisation of managerial choices in Chapter 3, which points to why organisations are adopting a “low road” approach, is then followed by a wealth of detailed description and analysis of policies and practices in Chapters 4‐7. Whilst much of this discussion surrounding policies and practices paints a broadly negative picture of “poor” employment practice, Lucas also recognises a rather paradoxical employee response to this situation. This point is seen most obviously with regard to the question of trade union recognition or affiliation. For example, since the introduction of the Employment Relations Act 1999 there have been no known recognition claims in the hospitality industry.

Some of the reasons as to why hospitality employees remain ambivalent towards trade union representation and, indeed, see their workplaces in unitary terms, are articulated in Chapter 8, which offers a fascinating view of this and a range of other issues. This chapter, based on the employee responses to the WERS survey, sets out to answer a number of key questions, most obviously why the existence of poor employment relations is not automatically translated into employees feeling alienated, dissatisfied or exploited. In part, Lucas suggests that this situation is explicable by the nature of the workforce, with hospitality employees more likely to be young, part‐time and female, for example. Additionally, there are a number of other aspects noted by Lucas, such as the social nature of the workplace, the potential for a close working relationship to emerge with managers, which potentially builds close bonds and engenders trust and the individualistic nature of the employment relationship that this creates. To summarise, it is argued that employees in the hospitality industry, despite concerns about low pay, remain “remarkably positive” (p. 227) about their job, workplace, managers and organisations, which in turn means that “trade unions face an even more daunting task in attempting to recruit members and organise hospitality industry workplaces” (p. 228). Indeed, in her concluding discussion at the end of the book whilst recognising the relative consensus between managers and employees, Lucas also notes that this should not imply that there is not a need to reform employment relations in the sector. Her prescriptions though to reform are premised on an extension of individual employment rights, rather than any active involvement for trade unions, who seem destined to failure in addressing the unitary culture which seemingly exists in hospitality workplaces.

A further aspect to the self‐reliance and unitaristic outlook that seems to be a characteristic of many hospitality employees may also be evident in the recognition of the crucial role of the customer. Lucas is keen to point out the importance of the customer in creating a triadic employment relationship, affecting employees directly in terms of the notion of customers being drawn into managerial control strategies, such as pay and reward systems which may be based on tips and customer appraisals of service. Inclusion of the role of the customer is a major addition to the original book and is just one of the several new areas explored in this updated version. The other main additions are concerned with Lucas' attempt to offer a more comparative and international focus and also to explicitly recognise the tourism industry. The former aspect is particularly useful in allowing for a global comparison and there are examples from around 50 countries throughout the book. Often these examples are presented as boxed examples or cases and this device works well, with illuminating comparisons of issues such as pay determination in the European hospitality industry, working time and employment patterns in the European hospitality and tourism industry, the cultural aspects of tipping and national vocational, educational and training frameworks for hospitality and tourism. A couple of minor criticisms here are that the comparative analysis tends to get somewhat lost as the book progresses and equally there are some difficulties in attempting to also systematically cover activities more redolent of tourism employment. Though in fairness, Lucas does acknowledge the challenge of sustaining a detailed comparison with other countries and also the problems of differentiating tourism or hospitality employment, which may be a rather semantical exercise.

In summary, I would have no hesitation in recommending this fine book to a variety of different readerships, students and scholars alike, who wish to learn more about this important sector of the economy. Its trenchant analysis, illuminated by the use of the WERS data, offers an accessible and readable synthesis of an array of sources and on this point alone the book is worth buying as the most complete sourcebook of work undertaken which explores employment relations/HRM in the hospitality and tourism sector.

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