Applying labour process concepts to public sector executive reforms: Peeling and segmenting the mandarins?

Colley, Linda Katurah (2011) Applying labour process concepts to public sector executive reforms: Peeling and segmenting the mandarins?. Journal of Management History, 17 3: 332-346. doi:10.1108/17511341111141396

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Author Colley, Linda Katurah
Title Applying labour process concepts to public sector executive reforms: Peeling and segmenting the mandarins?
Journal name Journal of Management History   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1751-1348
Publication date 2011
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1108/17511341111141396
Volume 17
Issue 3
Start page 332
End page 346
Total pages 15
Place of publication Bingley, W. Yorks., U.K.
Publisher Emerald Group Publishing
Collection year 2012
Language eng
Formatted abstract
Purpose - This article extends the literature by applying labour process concepts to public service executive employment.

Design/methodology/approach - The article draws on the secondary literature to link labour process theory to public administration reform. First, it draws on the labour process literature to provide a summary of some key labour process concepts that will be used throughout the article. This includes Littler’s framework for analysing work organisation, being structure of control, employment relationship and job design. Second, it draws on the public administration literature to outline the traditional mode of public sector employment relations, using labour process concepts to illustrate the traditional organisation of work. Third, it draws on the public management reform literature, to outline the key reforms that affected work organisation. In the final section, the article draws these literatures together and uses labour process concepts to analyse the positional power of department heads in the reformed environment. For simplicity and consistency, the examples focus largely on the Australian public sector – each Westminster system has adopted slightly different reforms at slightly different times, but there are enough similarities to allow generaliseability across systems.

Findings - The article argues that executives had a strategic position in the public service labour process, and reforms were designed to reduce their positional power. Politicians wrested control away from chief executives through strategies such as the division of labour, separation of conception and execution, deskilling, and changes to employment relations that destabilised traditional career paths and tenure. This is in contrast to the NPM rhetoric that the reforms would let managers manage – in reality they were provided more control over operational aspects of work, but lesser control over the intellectual and conceptual aspects of work which were now done elsewhere.

Originality/value - This paper is original in its extension of labour process concepts to a different and elite work group, being public sector chief executives.
© Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Keyword Bureaucratic employment relationship
Positional power
Labour process
Senior executives
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ
Additional Notes Originally published under Earlycite.

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Institute for Social Science Research - Publications
Official 2012 Collection
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Citation counts: Scopus Citation Count Cited 3 times in Scopus Article | Citations
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Created: Wed, 25 May 2011, 15:40:45 EST by Dr Linda Colley on behalf of Institute for Social Science Research