Welfare wars: public service frontline absenteeism as collective resistance

Anne Junor (School of Organization and Management, Australian School of Business (incorporating AGSM), University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
John O'Brien (School of Organization and Management, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
Michael O'Donnell (School of Management, Marketing and International Business, College of Business and Economics, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

ISSN: 1176-6093

Publication date: 27 March 2009



The purpose of this paper is to develop a model to explain frontline employee absence as a form of concerted resistance in a public service welfare environment.


Conflicts over absenteeism can be interpreted as a mix of formal and informal struggles over the effort bargain. Centrelink workers' use of “unplanned leave” between 2005 and 2007 involved the quasi‐collective use of a formal entitlement in a form of misbehaviour that defied management control.


Whereas absenteeism is normally assumed to be a form of unorganised individual time‐theft, in this study it became a tacitly‐agreed form of collective resistance and a way of affirming collectively negotiated rights.

Research limitations/implications

This paper explores how the toll of cost cutting and implementation of tighter welfare eligibility rules elicited collective resistance through leave taking and highlights how absenteeism can be more than an individual response of passive disengagement.


Using theories of resistance, the authors highlight how the case study both conforms to and departs from the received wisdom about absenteeism as an individual oppositional strategy.



Anne Junor, John O'Brien and Michael O'Donnell (2009) "Welfare wars: public service frontline absenteeism as collective resistance", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 6 No. 1/2, pp. 26-40

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: https://doi.org/10.1108/11766090910940647



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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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