Industrial Relations Adversarial Approach

Unhealthy behaviours

Industrial relations adversarial approach has the effect of putting employers and unions into direct confrontation. This brings both positive and negative results.

It is important that employers and employee unions have adequate knowledge of every important aspect of industrial relations.

The good thing about the IR adversarial approach is that the rights of employees are protected. Thus, the important role of unions, assuring the relevance of their existence.

However, the conflict between organization and union can escalate. And this does not bring much benefit to any party.

Union Versus Management

The industrial relations adversarial approach can bring about events that are either good or not so conducive to workplace harmony.

By adopting this approach, your organization respects the position of unions as employees' representatives in conflict resolution.

This is believed to strike a balance between the power of management and that of employees. It is accepted that employees are in a weaker bargaining position if they act individually. Employers may take advantage of non-unionised workers to break or weaken unions.

But workplace harmony may compel employers not to take unfair advantage of its stronger bargaining position as against employees. By accepting the existence of unions, it would appear that employers are not proceeding along this path.

Escalation of conflicts
The undesirable result of the industrial relations adversarial approach is that conflicts can escalate. Both management and union may adopt tactics in order to gain the upper hand over conflicts that arise.

This is not good for your organization and people.

What Can Happen In Conflicts?

Your employees may:

  • Go on strike, refusing to work until their demands are fulfilled by management
  • Refuse to work under certain conditions or arrangements
  • Prevent other employees from working
  • Induce others to boycott your products or services
  • Picket, that is, prevent other employees, customers and other people from entering your premises or work area
  • Ask their union to seek assistance from an industrial tribunal
  • Do other things that can harm your organization

On the other hand, you have the options of taking actions to protect your organization against actions of employees and union.

Remember that by doing this, it may worsen the situation.

In any event, do not take any hasty decision.

Do not take action that results in a position of "no return." Industrial Relations adversarial approach does not mean you must win at all costs.

However, if negotiation breaks down, you can do certain things to protect your interests.

  • You can "lock out" your employees. This prevents them from entering your premises.
  • You can obtain a court injunction to prevent your union from taking certain action especially that can harm your organization.
  • You can assign employees who are non-union members to carry out the job of union members who are on strike.
  • You can ask an employer association to influence the decision of the union.
  • You can refer the dispute to an industrial tribunal for resolution.
  • You may make a police report on certain acts considered criminal in nature. Where criminal acts are committed, you have no other choice but to do this.

However, try hard to avoid the sort situation like the one that happened in the United Kingdom a few decades ago when the employer had to face a militant miners union's leadership.

Why do Unions Continue to Exist?

The strength of a union can increase. It can wane. The economic, industrial and political climate influence this. Legislation may play a hand.

Get to know the reasons why employees join unions. But this must not send a signal that there is no place for unions in your organization.

Your organization cannot prevent employees from becoming members of unions. There is legislation that provides for this.

Make attempts to truly understand the role of unions. A good understanding of their roles and the apprehension of employees over their position as employees can at least help your organization pinpoint areas where it can make improvements.

This helps to assure your union and its members that you are not an "unfair" employer.

There are various reasons why employees join unions.

  • Employees are forced to join a union in order to get a job. This is called a "closed shop" situation.
  • Your organization's unfair policy or decision may compel them to join a union.
  • It is a family tradition of an employee to join a union.
  • The union can take up issues with your management. Your employee may fear being punished or victimized if he or she confronts your management regarding certain matters that are not favorable to them.
  • Employees are attracted to unions that fight for better employment terms, better health and safety conditions at work, and other employee benefits.
  • Employees believe their rights are better protected if they join unions.

The existence of unions provides employees with the opportunity to exercise their freedom of choice and expression. In this respect, the industrial relations adversarial approach contains some elements of democratic principles.

But it is good to keep in mind the destructive nature of the Industrial Relations adversarial approach.

Productivity Under a Unionized-Work Environment Productivity is a perennial concern of organizations. It is their primary objective to succeed.

Whether or not there is a union in your organization, productivity remains important. This is the case whether your organization has adopted the industrial relations adversarial approach or some other methods.

Organizational success benefits union and its members. Make your people and union understand this.

Effective Channel of Communication

Ensure that an effective communication channel exists between unions, its members and your organization's position.

The Collective Agreement helps to regulate the relationship between management and union. This helps members to understand where they stand in their relationship with your organization as employer.

Good communication can bring about a good working relationship. This is necessary for the well-being of your organization and employees.

You can take certain actions to maintain good understanding and working relationships between your management and union and employees at all times.

  • Ensure that your employees know and understand every policy. This includes what can happen if they go against any approved policy or rules. This includes employees' and organizational productivity.
  • Make it exceptionally clear to your employees what can and will happen when there is a dispute between your organization and the union.
  • At the same time, assure the union and members that you will act fairly at all times.
  • Implement a policy whereby executives in positions of authority ensure that discrimination of any form does not occur.
  • Always be ready to talk to union officials whenever they bring up matters that concern their members.
  • Adhere to the terms and conditions specified in the "Collective Agreement".
  • Be alert to any development that has the possibility of creating misunderstanding between your management, your union and employees.
  • Refrain from doing anything that the union or employees can misconstrue as being manipulative.
  • Maintain a channel of communication that can facilitate the making of informed decisions. Keep the channel open even when the matter is at the verge of being referred to industrial tribunals.

Create and Maintain Good Working Relationship with Your Union

One of the important reasons for managing well the relationship with unions is the danger of the dispute deteriorating further. In the worst case scenario, there is no choice but to refer the matter to an industrial tribunal.

Under certain situation, neither your organization nor the union can prevent this. This is in the nature of industrial relations adversarial approach.

Once the matter is presented before the industrial tribunal, all eyes are focused on your organization. It is fine if the decision is in your favor. But you are never sure what can happen.

Effective management of employer-employee conflicts is crucial.

Industrial Relations Adversarial Approach and Strategic Human Resource Management

The industrial relations adversarial approach need not affect any of your strategic plans to make your organization succeed.

Even during times of problematic relationship with union, always remember to act fairly and justly.

Addressing effectively the management-union relationship is part and parcel of strategic human resource management.

The adverse effects of the industrial relations adversarial approach continues to this day, creating hardships for a lot of people and causing financial losses.

These are some of unionism events:

  • The Chicago construction workers who went on strike in July 2010;
  • York City Transport Workers Union that went on strike also in July 2010;
  • August 2010: It was reported that British Airways strike threat became more likely as union complains over sackings;
  • In Bermuda, bus drivers went on strike in February 2011.
  • United Kingdom doctors voted to go on strike June 21, 2012
  • U.K., 10 July 2014: Thousands of people such as media caption teachers, firefighters and council staff hit schools and services around the country
  • South Africa, 23 January, 2014: Platinum workers went on strike, being the longest and most expensive in the country's history (five months)
  • India, 2nd September 2015: countrywide general strike resulting in estimated loss of Rs 25,000 crore to the economy. (1 crore=10m rupees=160,000 USD)

Whatever the reasons for the industrial actions, the question is whether there are ways available for the important players to avoid such actions.

This is not to question, however, the right of workers to go on strike according to the law. However, the decision to take industrial action is a serious thing. It is not something that people can take lightly.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the government had launched a review into legal implication of unions' tactics and the role of employers in industrial disputes.

This is not welcome news. Perhaps, it is time to look for a better way to handle workplace disputes.

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