In Search of Consensus: A History of Employment Relations in the New Zealand Hotel Sector – 1955 to 2000
This thesis examines the history of employment relations in the New Zealand hotel sector from 1955 to 2000. The hotel industry is a core part of the New Zealand tourism sector, which is the largest earner of export revenue for the country. While economically crucial, the New Zealand hotel sector exhibits employment conditions typical of the global industry, including low pay and high labour turnover. By taking a broad, critical, historical employment relations approach, this research addresses widespread calls to advance research on hospitality work beyond the limitations of a presentist, organisational and managerialist focus. This thesis fills this research gap by firmly placing the history of New Zealand hotel work in a wider socio-political and economic context. By taking this approach, the study can potentially inform employment relations policy and practice by emphasising broad drivers of change rather than the established concentration on various legislative regimes. The study analyses major changes within hotel sector employment relations, focusing on three key research questions:
- What is the history of employment relations in the New Zealand hotel sector from 1955 to 2000?
- What is the relationship between the historical development of employment relations in the New Zealand hotel sector and recent employment relations patterns?
- How does an employment relations framework, drawing on specific employment and management theories, explain the historical evolution of New Zealand hotel employment relations? The thesis consists of a history, which has been constructed using a qualitative methodology that is consistent with an interpretive paradigm. Two qualitative methods were used to gather the data for this research, archival research and 20 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with senior hotel and union leaders. An original research approach was undertaken by triangulating multiple theory perspectives, using the work of Polanyi (2001), Burawoy (1978, 2010), Corporatism (Schmitter, 1974, 1989) and Strategic Choice Theory (Kochan, McKersie, & Cappelli, 1984). The research “stacks” these theoretical approaches into three levels of analysis: a macro, global level; a mid-level, national view; and a micro, organisational and individual agency level. The rich analysis made possible by this approach supports the broad, historical, socially, politically and economically contextualised contribution of this research. The findings present a detailed narrative post-war history of the Hotel Workers Union and the Tourist Hotel Corporation for the first time and show the strong “corporatist” relationships shared by the employment relations stakeholders. The thesis argues that the dissolution of the corporatist consensus from the mid-1970s was a key driver of falling union membership and reduction in wages in the hotel sector, challenging previous thought that emphasised the impact of the Employment Contracts Act of 1991 on collapsing employment conditions. The findings also place the birth of New Zealand hotel human resource management in a specific historical context that suggests current “low road” practices are significantly influenced by the economic and ideological conditions present during its formative years. The historicism of this research helps to provide a critique of the post-1984, neo-liberal consensus that the current employment relations approach is the only approach. While the corporatist period of New Zealand employment relations was not universally positive for all employees and employers, the neo-liberal approach has clearly favoured employer dominance at considerable costs to front-line workers in terms of wages, job security and decent conditions―and thus poses a serious risk to the quality and sustainability of our biggest export-earner.