ABSTRACT

The view that lean production would become the new global paradigm for auto manufacturing had implications for employment relations practices. Lean production has been defined as ‘an interrelated set of technological, organisational and human resource policies that, when implemented together, constitute a new flexible system of work’ (Womack et al. 1990). This is contrasted with mass

production which is regarded as a more rigid, supply-oriented system less able to react to changes in market conditions, product life cycles and consumer tastes. Lean production also emphasises the effective utilisation of human resources to avoid excessive labour, which can mean fewer workers undertaking a wider range of tasks. This aspect of lean production has been criticised as both ‘lean and mean’ because there is excessive pressure and stress on the workforce. Concern has been raised by critics of globalisation that multinational enterprises in the auto sector will engage in a ‘race to the bottom’ by reducing wages and conditions and seeking to erode labour standards. There is also a view that lean production is simply an old fashioned ‘speed-up’ production device designed as a new idea in order to more subtly control the workforce, strengthen the role of management and weaken the trade unions (Babson 1992).