Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 3 2005, page 71-86.
Peter Hasle og Niels Møller
The slaughterhouse industry in Denmark is known for strong structural rationalization, a Tayloristic work organization, poor industrial relations with frequent strikes, and a hazardous work environment with a high frequency of accidents, repetitive strain injuries, and lower back pain. However, three slaughterhouses in Denmark display large differences on labour statistics compared to all other companies in the industry. They have a sickness absenteeism and labour turnover that are much lower than all other slaughterhouses, and for the last few years no strikes have occurred. These three slaughterhouses were studied in order to identify the reasons for the good results.
The analysis of the case studies of the three slaughterhouses in question revealed that they have moved from a culture based on conflicts and opposing interest to development of social capital based on trust and respect of each other. Development of trust between production managers and shop stewards was a key to the new situation, and it turned out that over a period of five to ten years the production manager and the shop steward have invested in social capital that was used in the development of a kind of joint management of the slaughterhouses. That happened without jeopardizing the production manager as the person with the final management responsibility and the shop steward as the representative of the workers.
The production manager and shop steward team also succeeded in dissemination of the new trust based culture to the whole company. It was based on involvement of both first line managers and employees in development of the new collaborative culture. The involvement has resulted in a better psychosocial work environment resulting in the positive statistics on low absenteeism, labour turnover and strike frequency.
Paradoxically, the former conflict culture and the opposing stronghold of the two parties could be considered the basis for the joint development. Both parties respected each other’s as powerful adversaries, and they knew very well that it would not be possible to initiate a new positive development without full consent from the other party. It could therefore be more difficult in other industries with a weaker powerbase for the workers to develop the same level of the social capital. In such cases it is more likely that the management have the full control of the development without involving the workers. They may be left out in the cold with passivity as the result.