Regulating of Work and Employment: Insights in Newcastle


Professor Gerg Bamber

Professor Greg Bamber

On a relatively mild winter’s day 22 January 2014, in the vibrant city of Newcastle upon Tyne in North East England, there was a day of interesting discussions about the Regulation of Work and Employment. This was led by an international team from Newcastle University; Monash University, Melbourne, Australia and Strathclyde University, Glasgow, Scotland. The day was the first of their 2014-15 Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Seminar Series.

This Seminar was held at the top of the new Newcastle University Business School building. The venue boasts magnificent views over the fine cityscape of Newcastle. Its highly regarded civic University was born in 1834. It is one of the elite Russell Group – the research-intensive leaders among UK universities.

This ESRC Seminar Series has an important and topical theme: Regulation of Work and Employment: Towards a Multidisciplinary, Multilevel Framework. The first  seminar focussed on asymmetries, ambiguities, similarities and contradictions in agendas for regulation addressing such questions as: What has changed in the way regulation is understood and used? What underlying assumptions are identified in the ways in which regulation of work and employment is understood and used by different stakeholders (e.g., academics, businesses and other employers, intergovernmental agencies, and the labour movement)? The seminar explored the extent to which work and employment should be regulated or deregulated, as well as how regulation should be developed and applied in practice. To this end, participants discussed the forces that give rise to various patterns of regulation at local, national, supranational and international levels.

The Seminar was opened with a warm welcome to the North East by Professor John Wilson, the Director of Newcastle University Business School. The other brilliant speakers who led discussion of these issues included:

  • Gill Dix, Head of Strategy, Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas)
  • Steve Hughes, Professor of International Organisations, Newcastle University
  • John Kitching, Professor, Small Business Research Centre, Kingston University
  • Thomas Kochan, George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), U.S.A.
  • Jim Mowatt, Director of Education, UNITE the union.

This excellent Seminar was organized efficiently by a talented Newcastle Team: Drs Jenny K Rodriguez, Stewart Johnstone and Tracy Scurry, with a helpful support crew. It was co-chaired by Professor Steve Hughes and this blog writer.

The Seminar was well attended by people from around the UK and Ireland; there were lively and stimulating discussions. In Australia and elsewhere, we hear calls for de-regulation of the labour market, for example, in terms of levels of pay and employment protection, with proponents arguing that de-regulation will create jobs. However, they don’t mention a consequence of such de-regulation: that it can facilitate an unfortunate ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of wages and job security!

Am looking forward to continuing the discussions about such regulation dilemmas at subsequent seminars in the series.

One Keynote Speaker, Jim Mowatt, an experienced union leader, observed:

‘I did learn a lot out of the whole experience – including the preparation which I had to undertake, the discussions … and the time which l factored in to reflect on the topic. During and after, I soaked up lots of insights and benefited from the other speakers’ research and experiences. I am bringing all of my Regional Directors to the Strathclyde University event in my home town of Glasgow; plus a couple of really “switched on” researchers.’

Another Keynote Speaker, Tom Kochan advocated fundamental change in the way in which work and employment is regulated, especially in the U.S. Later, he commented:

‘This seminar series couldn’t be more timely. Across the globe national governments, labour organisations, businesses, and international organisations are experimenting with new strategies to catch up with how and where work is carried out and how to assure basic labour standards, rights, and opportunities for improvement are realised. I learned a lot at the first seminar and recommend future sessions to all who share an interest in, and want to find ways to contribute to, meeting this challenge.’

For Kochan, visiting from the U.S., it was his first visit to the land of ‘Geordies’. So before and after the Seminar, we explored some of the locale together. He asked about Newcastle’s history. It can be traced back almost 2,000 years.

Briefly, the Roman Emperor Hadrian devised his great wall built from coast to coast across northern England during his visit to Britain in AD122. One rationale for Hadrian’s Wall was to try to regulate the most northern boundary of the Roman Empire. Hadrian’s Wall crossed Newcastle, not far from where Newcastle University Business School now stands tall on the site of a former major brewery, which used to brew the world-famous Newcastle Brown Ale! The School is next to the iconic St James Park Stadium, home of Newcastle United Football Club, which was founded in the 19th century.

In the 19th century, in particular, Newcastle prospered as one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution. It was also one of the cradles of the labour movement, as working people struggled to win influence over the regulation of their work and employment. Newcastle was internationally famous for technological innovation associated with its main industries. These included coal mining, shipbuilding and electrical and heavy engineering including railways and armaments manufacturing. Such industries declined here in the face of globalization, especially in the post-1945 period, as other countries developed these industries.

During World War II, the Luftwaffe targeted the Tyneside armaments factories and shipyards, which were vital for the UK war efforts. Nonetheless Newcastle escaped the severity of the devastation inflicted upon London, Coventry and some other UK industrial cities that were bombed more heavily by the Germans. Therefore Newcastle retains a good selection of its wonderful Victorian architecture, which reflects its 19th century prosperity. The University is a lead partner in the Newcastle Science City initiative, which promotes Newcastle as a city of science and innovation. This includes much 21st century urban re-generation to replace the older industries.

After showing Tom around, I reflected on my links with this locale. In the 19th century, some of my maternal ancestors migrated from Ireland to Newcastle, to seek work. My late parents had played a role in the defence of Newcastle. They both served for part of the War on radar surveillance and gun emplacements on Tyneside. They lived in the North East for much of their lives and one of my late Dad’s last jobs was at Newcastle University.

The UK Government’s former Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR) and its successor, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) had/have roles that influence job regulation. Both the CIR and ACAS gave me several fascinating assignments in the North East to conduct case studies or arbitrations in the field of industrial relations.

Newcastle University’s sister and neighbour, Durham University, appointed me to my first tenured academic job, in the same field. (These universities used to form two parts of Durham University.) While I worked at Durham, my young son learned to play football well. [Many people in the North East are passionate about football.] My daughter was born there. Although I now live mainly in Australia, it is always enjoyable to visit this ‘neck of the woods,’ especially as I am lucky enough also to be a Visiting Professor at Newcastle. A lasting impression is that the people of the North East are among the most friendly and kind people in the world!

Not least thanks to the talented Newcastle Team, there are no better places in which to think about the Regulation of Work and Employment. However, of course our subsequent 2014 seminars in Glasgow and Tuscany were also worthwhile and thought provoking.

For information about these and later seminars, see:

If you are interested in participating in any way, please email:

Greg J. Bamber

Professor, Monash Business School, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. Visiting Professor, Newcastle University Business School, England.