Labour regulation in the small service sector enterprise
Small service enterprises have typically been neglected both by industrial relations researchers and by small firms researchers. Yet there are compelling reasons why relations between employers and employees might differ from those found in large firms or in manufacturing firms. Drawing on face-to-face interview data from 54 small service enterprise owner-managers and 117 of their employees, the study aims to redress this imbalance in research effort. The study focuses on three contrasting sectors in the service industries: computer services; employment and secretarial services; and free houses and restaurants. Although 'informal' regulation was a feature common to all sectors, there were substantive differences between sectors in processes of labour regulation. Employment relations in each of the three sectors were found to be regulated in different ways reflecting a variety of influences. These include the nature of work roles, workforce characteristics and expectations and the role of the customer in the process of labour regulation. Informal regulation permitted owner-managers considerable flexibility in the recruitment, reward and utilisation of labour. A different employment culture was found to exist in the three sectors. These cultures - termed the 'work', 'money' and 'sociability' cultures - give meaning to employment and to the relationship between owner-managers and employees. The social processes through which these cultures are constituted are likely to be found in many other small enterprises and it is their wider presence which facilitates generalisation from the present sample to that of the broader small firm population. The study has implications for the study of contemporary employment relations in the UK. The growing importance of the small service enterprise in the UK economy of the 1990s means that the patterns of employment relations found in such firms are becoming increasingly prevalent. Moreover, many of the employment relations processes typical of the small enterprise are argued to be becoming more common in larger enterprises.