Accounting's role in resisting wage theft

a labour process theory analysis

Da Yang*, John Dumay, Dale Tweedie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Purpose: In 2015, one university student in KC – a small town in regional Australia – unknowingly launched a resistance movement and national debate on modern wage theft. We apply labour process theory to analyse accounting’s role in this case.

Design/methodology/approach: We study multiple instances of wage theft in one Australian town. This case site reveals how wage theft can emerge in a developed economy with well-established legal and institutional constraints. We use Thompson’s “core” labour process theory to analyse accounting’s role via two
interrelated dialectics: (1) structure and agency and, (2) control and resistance.

Findings: Accounting was “weaponised” by both sides of the controversy: as a tool of employer control and as a vehicle for student resistance. Digital technologies enabled employee resistance to form unconsciously and organically. Proponents mobilised informally, with information and accounting the ammunition.

Social implications: Wage theft affects industrialised as well as developing economies, especially “precarious” workers. We show how accounting can conceal exploitation, but also how – with the right support – accounting can help vulnerable workers enforce their rights and entitlements.

Originality/value: The paper uncovers novel dynamics of exploitation and resistance at work under contemporary economic and technological conditions. Labour process theory can provide a more dialectical perspective on accounting’s role in these dynamics, including the emancipatory potential of informal and opportunistic counter-accounts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-110
Number of pages26
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Volume34
Issue number1
Early online dateOct 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2020

Keywords

  • Counter accounts
  • Labour process theory
  • dialectics
  • precarious work
  • wage theft

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