Rock_2018_Shop.pdf (2.68 MB)
Shop steward representation in contemporary Irish industrial relations: experiences, tasks, responsibilities and challenges
thesisposted on 2022-09-12, 10:30 authored by Mick Rock
Shop stewards as workplace union representatives provide protection for workers concerning problems with their treatment by management at their workplace. This study set out to examine shop steward representation and the characteristics associated with the role in contemporary Irish industrial relations. There is limited and fragmented evidence to date in the Irish context of the factors and issues influencing the shop stewards’ role in contemporary Irish industrial relations. The research focuses on the experiences of shop stewards in the Pharmaceutical, Chemical and Medical Devices (PCMD) sector of SIPTU as they undertake the responsibility and tasks associated with the role of workplace union representation. A framework of representation is proposed encompassing key aspects of the shop steward role. Two key themes are identified as being central features in the examining the characteristics of shop steward representation; becoming and remaining a shop steward and the tasks shop stewards perform as workplace representatives. The study was based on a survey (n=123) and three follow up focus groups comprising of sixteen shop stewards. The study finds that few members enter the role as highly eager or radicalised union members. Personal factors such as age, experience and workplace circumstances were key influences whereby such members were encouraged by others to take on the role. Positive experiences in the role such as union support, supportive management attitudes and the development of personal skills and knowledge in making a difference in protecting the members as the union representative impacts positively on the intention to continue in the role. The study highlights the importance of leadership as a key aspect of the day to day tasks of shop stewards. The nature of the experiences in the role and length of tenure are found to be significant influences impacting on the leadership style and tasks of the shop steward in facilitating opportunities for members to influence their working lives at firm level. The findings highlight more similarities than differences between predominant leadership styles (leader/follower) of shop stewards in discharging their communication and voice role. This is a corollary of the limitations and constraints imposed on the tasks of shop stewards by union members and management in the workplace as shop stewards deal with how best to protect membership preferences and wishes in a role that is voluntary and without formal leadership powers. Collectively, these findings suggest a multifaceted set of characteristics and challenges associated with the task of workplace representation but points to an enduring resilience among shop stewards playing a key role in shaping the working lives of the membership at the work.