The Malta Independent 25 February 2020, Tuesday

Malta and its human resources: Management and development perspectives

Monday, 10 February 2020, 09:00 Last update: about 17 days ago

Edited: Godfrey Baldacchino, Vincent Cassar and Joseph G. Azzopardi. Publisher: Malta University Press. 2019. Extent: 550pp. Review by Saviour Rizzo

Put simply, Human Resource Management (HRM) is the effective management of people to achieve organisational goals. The academic literature about HRM shies away from the utilitarian and instrumentalist perception which this definition implies. This book, about HRM in Malta, though at times practitioner-based, strives successfully to apply the theories of justice and fairness to specific HRM practices.  Indeed, the design of the book, divided into two sections, is aimed at identifying and expounding the major principles that underpin key choices in HRM strategy.

The first section of the book, comprising nine chapters, provides the theoretical and conceptual context underpinning the strategies and practices of HRM. The common thread running throughout this book is spelt out clearly in chapter 1. The co-authors of this chapter, Frank Bezzina and David Baldacchino, contend that HRM practitioners need to "shed the shackles of the traditional gut feeling approach and elevate the HR function to strategic level". In other words, a paradigm shift towards a more strategic and professional approach is needed. This message reverberates throughout the nine chapters which comprise the first section of this book. The eight chapters that follow in this section stress the point that this shift in every aspect of HRM practices should be functional rather than simply cosmetic.

To emphasise the need for this shift, Pace Debono and Said, in chapter 2, identify the socio-economic and technological drivers of change that have emerged and consolidated themselves in the Maltese labour market. Chapter 3 by Caroline Buhagiar Klass, zooms in on performance management at work, seeking recipes for management to boost or possibly maintain performance levels. Chapter 4 by Gottfried Catania, consists of a theory-rich commentary on motivation, commitment and control. In chapter 5, Luke Anthony Fiorini forcefully argues that rewards can boost workers' quality of life and wellbeing and in so doing lead to improved work performance. In chapter 6, Anna Borg gives a perceptive overview of the practices that directly or indirectly undermine the precepts of equality, diversity and inclusion at the workplace. Joseph Azzopardi "revisits the extant literature and practices in the field of HRM with a view to elicit lessons that can be learned from its evolution over the past 100 years" in chapter 7. Manwel Debono delineates the role of the trade unions in the process of collective bargaining to provide a framework through which management-employee relationships can take shape in chapter 8. In chapter 9, Leonie Baldacchino contends that an organisation, especially one that operates in the labour market, needs a constant dose of creativity and innovation in order to sustain itself and remain economically viable.

A common thread throughout this first section of the book is the concerns experienced by several firms about securing cost-effective and skilled labour with some degree of organisational flexibility. The underlying message is that social legitimacy and managerial acumen also play an important part in human resource activities. In trying to give a wide ranging and conceptual view of these concerns, the presentations at times tend to be overwhelmed with theory. No attempt was made by any of the nine authors to bring their story to life by inserting apt and concrete examples, case studies or vignettes to illustrate or maybe drive home their points.

The second section comprising 12 chapters is in a completely different vane. The focus here is on specific economic sectors, covering the wide-ranging landscape of the Maltese labour market. Here, the chapter I enjoyed most was about agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries: three sectors about which my knowledge is scant. Everaldo Attard, its author, unravels the nuances which the actors involved in these sectors have to cope with. The other papers comprising this section by and large follow a similar tone and pattern. An ideal is set which serves as a means to outline the options, strategies and policies peculiar to the various sectors featuring in this section. It has however to be noted that there are instances in the text of these papers where the reader may feel overwhelmed by the weight of quantitative data. This, however, is a minor quibble. By and large, the external elements the workers are subjected to are very well articulated and debated.

By focusing on different sectors of the economic market, these chapters identify and expound major principles that underpin key choices in Human Resource strategy. All contributors show a comprehensive knowledge of HRM practices in their field. The message is loud and clear: each HR system in a firm is aimed at a different workforce. An understanding of such a diversity serves as a kaleidoscope through which patterns within and across organisations and over time can be perceived. Indeed, the readings in this section provide an alternative prism that enables us readers to better fathom the ramifications of the evolving nature of human resource practices and strategies.

This is an enlightening book in many ways. It unpicks the complexities of systems over time and questions dominant ideologies around matters of social equity. In so doing, it seriously challenges the inculcation of the traditional work ethic that surrounds workplace policies as implicitly or explicitly expressed by Thatcher, Blair and other exponents who subscribe to the neo-liberal ideology.

Saviour Rizzo is former director of the Centre for Labour Studies at the University of Malta



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