How union participation influences union commitment and job involvement

Publication Date07 October 2019
AuthorMin Li,Wenyuan Huang,Chunyang Zhang,Zhengxi Yang
SubjectHr & organizational behaviour,Industrial/labour relations,Employment law
How union participation
influences union commitment
and job involvement
Min Li, Wenyuan Huang and Chunyang Zhang
School of Business Administration,
South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, China, and
Zhengxi Yang
School of Public Administration,
South China Agricultural University, Guangzhou, China
Purpose The purpose of this paper i s to draw on triadic recipr ocal determinism and soc ial exchange
theory to examine how induced-typeand compulso ry-typeunion participa tion influence union
commitment and job inv olvement, and how union partic ipation in the west differs fr om that in China. It also
examines whether the rol e of both organizational j ustice and employee part icipation climate (EPC )
functions in the Chine se context.
Design/methodology/approach Cross-sectional data are collected from 694 employees in 46 non-publicly
owned enterprises, both Chinese and foreign, in the Pearl River Delta region of China. A multi-level moderated
mediation test is used to examine the model of this research.
Findings Union participation is positively related to organizational justice, union commitment and job
involvement. In addition, organizational justice acts as the mediator among union participation, union
commitment and job involvement. Specifically, the mediating role of organizational justice between union
participation and union commitment, and between union participation and job involvement, is stronger in
high-EPC contexts than low-EPC contexts.
Originality/value Instead of examining the impacts of attitudes on union participation, as per most
studies in the western context, this research examines the impacts of union participation in the Chinese
context on attitudes, including union commitment and job involvement. It also reveals the role of both
organizational justice and EPC in the process through which union participation influences union
commitment and job involvement.
Keywords Organizational justice, Job involvement, Union participation, Employee participation climate,
Union commitment
Paper type Research paper
Private enterprises, both Chineseand foreign, in mainland China have developed rapidly since
the reform and opening policy of 1978, especially after top leader Mr Deng Xiaopings
inspectiontour of Southern China in 1992. Thenumber of employees in private enterpriseshas
also seen a dramatic increase, from 0 in 1978 to 335m in 2016, which accounts for about
43 percent of the total employment (National Bureau of Statistics, 2017). Although private
enterprises provide more than 40 percent of jobs, they also raise more labor disputes. From
1998 to 2010, labordispute arbitrations handledby non-state-owned enterprisesaccounted for
67.7 percent of all arbitration cases (Department of Population and Employment Statistics of
the National Bureau of Statistics, 19982003/2010) due to the fact that the unions in private
enterprisesare too weak to protect the rights and benefitsof employees. A strike at the Honda
Auto Parts Manufacturing Company and the suicides of 13 workers at Foxconn (China
Enterprise News, 2010), both in May 2010, were warnings of the severity of the situation.
Employee Relations: The
International Journal
Vol. 41 No. 6, 2019
pp. 1348-1363
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/ER-06-2018-0170
Received 22 June 2018
Revised 2 January 2019
27 March 2019
Accepted 27 March 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
The research project has been supported by the National Natural Science of Foundation of PR China
(No. 71472066).
Therefore, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) called for reforms on
grass-rootsunions and started the two universalswork guidelinesto encourage more unions
and more collective wageconsultations in private enterprises[1]. According to statistics from
the ACFTU, thetotal number of union members and local unionsreached 280 (including 109m
migrant workers)and 2.753m, respectively, while81.1 percent of employees joined unions, by
the end of June 2013 (Guang MingDaily, 2013, p. 1). In 2015, more than 15m migrant workers
were new union members (ACFTU, 2016). After years of index managementtechnical
governance, although the union penetration rate of non-public enterprises has increased, the
effectiveness of unions in China has been questioned by scholars who believe that most new
union members join based on pressure from enterprise unions (Wu, 2012). In the conflict
regarding labor relations, the workerslegal labor rights protectionof unions has not been
recognized by workers, which has given rise to a crisis of trust in unions (Huang, 2016).
Realizingthis crisis, the Guangdong ProvincialFederation of Trade Unions (GDPFTU)posted
an official document titled Opinions on Further Strengthening the Construction of Trade
Union Organizations in Private Enterprisesin 2015. This official document aims to
transform the effectiveness of the work carried out by the grass-roots trade unions into the
personnel feelings of the workers andstaff(GDPFTU, 2015, p. 1). It is expected that thiswill
stimulateworkers to join unions voluntarily.The context regardingunions in China is unique:
On the one hand, the grass-roots tradeunion reform in the mainland was implemented under
the pressure systemand managementbased on index objectives whichgiven by upper-level
unions. For example, the GDPFTU proposed in 2015 that in the course of roughly five years
more than 90 percent of non-public enterprises in Guangdong should establish trade unions
and more than 90 percentof employees and migrant workers in non-public enterprisesshould
be trade union members. This shows that employees may have been induced(referred to
here as induced-typeunion participation) or required by some coercivemethods
(compulsory-typeunion participation) to becomeunion members, and participatedin related
activities underthe same inducement or pressure.On the other hand, the goal of the activities
of trade unions in mainland China is to mobilize and organize employees to actively
participate in economic construction, and strive to complete production tasks and work
tasks conscient iouslyand to represent the interests of employees and safeguard the
legitimate rights and interests of employees(Chinese Legal Publishing House, 2017, p.1). In
this way, ACFTU hopes that employees will actively participate in production and
management, and is assisting management to meet business objectives while allowing
employees to truly feel the power of the trade unions, thereby increasing their positive
affective attitudes toward these unions.
Trade unions of non-public enterprises in mainland China have adopted various
inducingand coercivemeasures in order to stimulate employeesparticipation in union
activities. According to the theoretical view of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991), attitude is a
significant predictor (antecedent) of behavior. However, the theoretical view of triadic
reciprocal determinism (Bandura, 1986) provides a new perspective, suggesting that
individualsattitudes and behaviors might entail an interactive relationship, meaning that
behaviors can influence self-perception and then lead to the generation of attitudes and new
behaviors. Therefore, an argument arises that union participation might be an independent
variable of union commitment and job involvement in Chinese context. This paper puts
forward four research questions:
RQ1. Are induced-type and compulsory-type union participation positively related to
union commitment in China?
RQ2. Is union participation positively related to job involvement in China?
RQ3. What is the mechanism of union participation that leads to union commitment and
job involvement?
and job

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