Unitarist or pluralist approach in managing the use of contingent work


Unitarist or pluralist approach in managing the use of contingent work

The rise of part-time, contract and temporary work (non-standard employment relations) is often seen as an inevitable outcome of the changing economic environment and associated requirements of a modern-day organization. However, as the compulsory article shows, it can also result in worker discontent if contingent workers are not treated equitably.

Argue whether a unitarist or pluralist approach would be better in managing the use of contingent workers. You must use the compulsory article as one of your sources. Discuss with reference to ONE or TWO of the following human resource management functions:

(a) Recruitment and selection (See chapter 6 “Staffing the organization”), OR
(b) Training and development (See chapter 7 “Learning and development at work”), OR
(c) Performance appraisal (See chapter 8 “Performance management”) OR
(d) Remuneration (See Chapter 9 “Rewards”) OR
(e) Diversity management (See Chapter 10 “Managing workplace diversity”)


structure :
: Remember to:
1. answer the question – which approaches, unitarist or pluralist would be better? (provide definitions of what is meant by these approaches)
2. why?
3. what evidence do you have to support this argument – refer to one or two of the hrm functions to do this.


Student’s Name:

Instructor’s Name:

Course Code and Name:


Date Assignment is due:


Question. 1

Title: Unitarist or pluralist approach in managing the use of contingent work. 1

Introduction. 2

Reasons why the pluralist approach is the best choice in managing the use of contingent workers. 4

Remuneration issues. 4

Issues of diversity management. 4

Evidence for the benefits of the pluralist approach. 5

References. 7


The modern employment setting is characterized by the rise of part-time, temporary and contract work. The rise of non-standard employment relations is seen by many as inevitable. It is a reflection of the changing economic circumstances and it is associated with the realistic requirements of the modern-day organization. Two main approaches, (unitarist and pluralist) are often used to derive organizational mechanisms for relating to contingent workers. This paper proposes and argues for the position that a pluralist approach is the best perspective to adopt in managing contingent workers.


In the unitarist approach, it is assumed that there is no fundamental conflict of interest between capital and labor; that a common purpose and shared objectives always exist between these two factors of production. In the unitary approach, aberration arises because of poor management and poor communication and unions are considered as an unwelcome intrusion.

The pluralist approach is characterized by the observation that conflict is inevitable since competing interests between parties will always exist. For this reason, power is always diffused among all the main bargaining groups within an employment relationship, whereby no one dominates. Trade unions are considered to be an ideal mechanism of legitimating the rights of employees to bargain for better terms of employment within the workplace.

The state, according to the pluralist perspective, is an impartial entity, whose core function is to offer protection to the ‘public interest’. The main assumption about workplace relations is that employees and managers have different objectives. It is also assumed that multiple sources of legitimate will always exist in the workplace.

Within the pluralist approach, the inevitable workplace conflicts are caused by different values and opinions, and as such, they are beneficial to the organization. One way of avoiding conflicts is to allow trade unions, whereby organizational decisions are supposed to be made with reasonable consideration to the demands of trade unionists.

Proponents of the pluralist approach are of the view that trade unions are not the cause of conflict in the workplace. In fact, they consider them to be an expression of diverse interests that will always exist in any workplace. It is, therefore, a legitimate part of all workplace relations. Moreover, a pluralist approach adopts a ‘collective basis’ approach in arriving at a good deal during collective bargaining negotiations.

Reasons why the pluralist approach is the best choice in managing the use of contingent workers

When workplace conflicts arising as a result of discontent among contingent workers are appreciated, they can be resolved amicably (Garavan, 2004). The pluralist approach not only appreciates these inevitable conflicts, but it also provides for the role of collective bargaining. This brings to the fore the issue of remuneration, one of the most critical HR functions as far as management of contingent work is concerned.

Remuneration issues

The pluralist approach provides guidelines on how a balance between employee and management power should be derived, in order to resolve remuneration-related conflicts (Budd, 2004). According to pluralist thinking, there are rules, processes, and regulations to be followed whenever conflicts arise with regard to salaries and other employment benefits of contingent workers.

The employment relationships in many developed countries have been evolving greatly over the past couple of decades (Ivo, 2006). Most of these changes have been in the form of decentralization of workplace regulations, meaning that the approaches to the remuneration of contingent employees have changed too. In the traditional setting, wage rates were centralized in a reflection of the prevailing balances of power that were shaped by permanent tenures among all employees. Today, the pluralist approach is being applied in many organizations that employ contingent workers, whereby wage rates are set and implemented through a highly decentralized system.

Issues of diversity management

In recent years, a lot of emphases have been put on the need for industrial relations to change in order to reflect the changing trends in the nature of employment of today’s workforce. The nature of workplace diversity for contingent workers is different from that of permanent employees. For such changes to be appreciated a pluralist approach is needed for purposes of providing rules, structures, and processes through which contingent employees interact with their employers in the new setting without offsetting the existing balance of power.

Evidence for the benefits of the pluralist approach

            In both HR functions (remuneration and workplace diversity), the interests of both employers and employees are appreciated(Chang, & Liao (2009). This enhances the concept of mutualism and flexibility in efforts by employers to meet the needs of contingent workers. Within the pluralist perspective, it is always possible to address contingent employees’ complaints through set processes without disrupting the normal operations of the organization.

             When the Business Council of Australia (BCA) representatives entered a collective bargaining agreement with employees’ union representatives in 1990, the effectiveness of the pluralist approach was showcased. In this scenario, a National Wage Case was established by the government, employers and labor unions, thereby establishing collective bargaining for use in future wage increases.

The employment systems in New Zealand and Australia present clear evidence of pluralism at work for the benefit of discounted contingent employees (Campbell &Brosnan, 2008). In these two countries, there is a category of employees referred to as casual workers. This category has for a long time been permitted through labor regulations. Sometimes back, labor regulations used to limit casual employment through quantitative restriction and prescription of hourly rates of pay. Yet there is a significant difference in the development of ‘casualization’ strategies in these countries, with New Zealand’s casual labor being seemingly less significant.


Campbell &Brosnan (2008) indicate that employer calculations and choices are responsible for the difference in the way the contingent workforce has developed in these two countries. In New Zealand, there is always compression from the bottom (in both custom and practice) because contingent workers are allowed to demand basic rights and benefits within the ‘minimum code’s ‘minimum code’ statute (Radcliffe, 2005). This is clear evidence of how the pluralist approach can be of help in managing various HR functions as they relate to the welfare of both the employer and the contingent employee.

In Australia, the state plays an impartial role in facilitating the achievement of benefits that are for the benefit of ‘public interest’. Casual employment continues to be firmly embedded in the provisions of labor regulation. Although the Australian system has had very little statutory regulation, the common law that is supervised by the state provides for an underlying statutory structure (Willcoxson& Millett, 2000). Within a pluralist perspective, Australian contingent employees have been able to complain about the poor implementation of award structures. 

            Wooden, Drago&Blac (2009) observe that as individuals enter their prime earning years, both actual and preferred hours tend to rise along with their wages. This is also the time when they return to human capital is at its highest level, but ultimately, it declines. A proper understanding of the balance between changing employment preferences and the value of the human capital investment is of utmost importance to HR professionals. This is especially so in situations where grievances of discontented contingent employees are encountered, meaning that a pluralist approach becomes the best perspective to use.

In conclusion, the pluralist approach is beneficial for an organization where contingent employees need to be managed. Issues of remuneration and workplace diversity, if not properly handled may lead to complaints among contingent workers. The values and opinions of both the employee and the employer should be considered for the effective use of contingent work.


Budd, J. (2004) Why a Balance Is Best: The Pluralist Industrial Relations Paradigm of Balancing Competing Interests, Theoretical Perspectives on Work and the Employment Relationship, Research Volume

Campbell, I. &Brosnan, P. (2008) Relative Advantages: Casual Employment and Casualisation in Australia and New Zealand, retrieved from on May 25, 2010           

Chang, C. & Liao, I. (2009) Individual Characteristics, Organizational Justice and Job Attitudes of Employees under Non-standard Work Arrangements: Study of Employees of International Tourist Hotels, International Journal of Management. 26(2), 224-240

Garavan, T. (2004) Exploring Human Resource Development: A Levels of Analysis Approach, Human Resource Development Review, 3(4), 417-441.

Ivo, A. (2006) Best Perspectives to Human Resource Management, African Centre for Community and Development, retrieved on May 25, 2010.

Radcliffe, D. 2005, Critique of Human Resources Theory, Otago Management Graduate Review 3(2), 51-67

Willcoxson, L. & Millett, B. (2000) The Management of Organizational Culture, Australian Journal of Management & Organizational Behavior, 3(2), 91-99 Wooden, M.  Drago, & R. Blac, D. (2009) Who wants and gets flexibility? Changing work hours, preferences and life, Industrial & Labor Relations Review,

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