9 Industrial Relations

The role of HR department in developing and maintaining harmonious working relations between employers and employees is very important. In many countries large proportions of the working population nowadays belong to trade unions. In some countries considerable legislation exists to control many of the “terms and conditions of employment,” while in other countries the relevant governments might exercise various degrees of control over the activities of the trade unions or unions permitted to function within those countries. Each HR manager and Industrial Relations Officer must ensure that information on current local conditions and trends in his/her country are obtained by reading local and national newspapers, management publications, government publications etc.

9.1 Trade Unions

These are the organized groups of workers within an organization. Sometimes, these trade unions comprise workers of different organizations involved in similar activities. Traditionally the main aims of trade unions have been to negotiate with employers on behalf of their members in an attempt to secure better wages and working conditions for their members, in some cases excessive union demands and actions have seriously damaged businesses or entire industries and their financial resources. Today the activities of trade union movement on behalf of its members cover some or all of such areas as:

  • Improving rates of remuneration;
  • Improving working conditions, welfare and safety;
  • Protecting members against unfair practices;
  • Trying to ensure security of employment;
  • Raising the status of workers;
  • Involvement in all matters concerning the workforce of an organization.

9.2 Collective bargaining

This is the name given to a system by which a union negotiates with management on behalf of its members. Such negotiations can be done on an individual basis, i.e. between an organization and the union representing the members employed by that organization. However, it is becoming common in some countries to find a number of organizations in the similar industry negotiating with a union or unions jointly.

9.3 Industrial action

When negotiations between the trade union and the employer fail, various forms of industrial action can result. It may take the form of overtime bans, go slows, work to rule, strike etc. This action continues until such time as one party gives way or until an independent arbitration body is called in to mediate and is able to find a formula acceptable to both parties.

9.4 Joint consultation

In many countries joint consultation between representatives of employers and representatives of employees is becoming increasingly common. That is due to the appreciation by management of the right and need of employees to be consulted about and even to participate in decisions which affect their employment, livelihood and job security. Joint consultations can range from the discussing of minor problems which have arisen on the shop-floor to the attendance of employees’ representatives at meetings of directors.

For success, management must accept the rights of the employees to be consulted and recognize the value of their contributions. At the same time, the employees and their representatives must recognize the expertise which management possesses and the importance of planning beyond the immediate future. Both sides must be prepared to consider the other’s point of view.

9.5 Staff Associations

Members of staff associations are usually non-manual workers, or ‘white collar workers’ (as opposed to being ‘blue collar’ manual workers). They might be clerks, secretarial staff, computer operators, sales personnel, hospital nursing staff, doctors, engineers etc.

The representatives of a staff association will take up with the HR manager the causes of individuals, or groups of their members, and strive to obtain better pay scale and improved working conditions, and support members’ claims of unfair dismissal, and claims for compensation for injuries sustained in their employment etc.

9.6 The Role of HR Manager

The HR manager and his/her staff play a vital role in all negotiations between employees and management. The HR manager needs to be able to think clearly and logically and, as the result of training and ‘practical experience,’ he/she must acquire the ability to approach each situation and problem positively and objectively.

It is important that an HR manager neither makes “snap decisions” based on inadequate thought or consideration, nor is hesitant in reaching a decision. The process of decision making involves the following steps:

  • Defining as accurately as possible the problem which needs to be solved;
  • Collecting all relevant information about the problem;
  • Breaking down the problem into parts;
  • Comparing the probability of success of possible different solutions;
  • Selecting the most suitable solution;
  • Making the decision, and implementing it.