Understanding workplace relations is important in the current society where employee’s role in making firms achieve their objectives has become very relevant. Understanding the theoretical framework of workplace relation will enable a manager understand the best strategy through which, employees can be managed in order to improve their productivity. According to Bhagoliwal (2011), employees form the most important asset within a firm. Their role in helping a firm achieve its vision is undisputed. The rise of industrial relations was because of the feeling that some employers were not taking into consideration the need to ensure that interests of their employees were taken care of appropriately.
Several scholars have given a variety of definition for industrial relation. According to Kaufman (2012), industrial relation refers to employee relations or employment relation. According to this scholar, industrial relations entail the relationship that exists between employees and the employer. On the other hand, Rainnie (2011) defines employee relations as being the same as management of human resource. This involves managing employee within a firm in a manner that will offer them satisfaction within their workplace, hence make them deliver value in their respective fields. Bhagoliwal (2011) is a little categorical with his definition.
When talking about employee relation, this is always about the relationship that exists between an individual employee and the employer. If there is an issue that may arise between the two entities, then the employee will approach the issue as an individual and raise it with the management without involving other employees. On the other hand, labor relations do not involve talking to an individual employee, but the entire labor force within a firm or an industry. When dealing with labor relations, issues raised will always be on the interest of all the workers within the industry or a firm (Kaufman, 2012). If the employer aggrieves an individual employee, then the entire union will come up and condemn such incidents in solidarity with the single aggrieved employees. Although unionization of employees is becoming less common in the developing countries, it still plays a significant role in ensuring that employer-employee relationship is based on mutual respect.
History of industrial relations spans back to the days of industrial revolution. Industrial revolution came soon after agrarian revolution of the 18th century. During the agrarian revolution, the land enclosure system forced many landless people out of their rural set ups. Because of this, most of the displaced people went to the city in search for employment. Some of these individuals remained in the rural set-ups to work in the plantations owned by the rich property owners (Kuhlmann, 2007). During industrial revolution, industries sprung up in various cities, and in order to operate, they would employ individuals who had moved to the city in search for employments.
Most of the industries were established in the outskirts of major towns. During this period, employees experienced a lot of mistreatment from their employers. This was due to the general belief in the society that they belonged to the lowest social class in the society. The employers would offer these employees’ salaries that would not enable them to meet all their basic needs. In some cases, these employees would fail to release this meager pay in time, a fact that would make these employees and their families go without food.
The employees worked under very strict conditions during this time. The supervisor would ensure that all the employees worked for long hours without rest. Those who tried to disobey such rules would be wiped, or their salaries be deducted at end of the month. Employees would have no otherwise but to obey the employer and withstand the abuse because that was the only source of livelihood. Employers would dismiss their employees at their own pleasure, and in most of the cases, the dismissed employee would go without pay in that period. Physical abuse was also very common, and reported cases of deaths due to such physical abuse were very common in this society. Employees would be forced to work for very long hours, and in some cases, they would be assigned to dangerous working environments. Their employer would not address any casualty that would arise out of their assignments appropriately.
This raised a lot of tension between employer and employees. The employees resented their supervisors and employers alike. Cases of violent strikes became very common. In such strikes, workers would attack supervisors and employers and this would result in death of many people. The workers would also vandalize the facilities of the firms and cause mayhem in the entire city. At times, such strikes would spill over to the trading centers and the striking workers would start looting properties of traders, especially those they believed are oppressive to their employees. These cases were getting too common, and the society had to respond (Venkataramana, 2009).
There was a need to rebuild the destroyed relationship between employers and employees. This was the genesis of industrial relations. It was established in early 19th century to help cement the relationship of employer and employee and foster a good working environment where there is mutual respect between the two entities. It spread to other parts of the world for the same reason, and by 20th century, it was a common practice globally. However, the practice is becoming less common in the 21st century. Employee relation is becoming more common as labor relation become less popular.
Scholars and various other stakeholders have argued for and against the formation of unions within the society. For those in support, they have stated their arguments why they believe that unionization is necessary even in the contemporary world. According to Bhagoliwal (2011), unionization offers employees opportunity to have a collective bargain in various industries. According to this scholar, employees remain vulnerable to their employers. Employees do not have power to bargain for their rights on individual basis. This is because the employer can always find it easy dealing with individual employees than a group of employees. Although various changes have taken place in this field, there are still various cases of reported abuse of power by employers or their representatives.
Rainnie (2011) also supports unionization in organizations saying that employees are not safe from possible abuse by their superiors. Cases where employers would demand for favors from employees are still in existence today. This is not because the victims like such acts, but because they feel they are powerless. They, therefore, resign to such abuses waiting for the day such abuse would end. In this 21st century, such abuses cannot be tolerated. The best forum where employees who feel that they are abused by their employees can have their issues addressed is through the unions. According to Kaufman (2012), the unions would ensure that such employers face legal actions in accordance with the law. Most employees fear exposing their employers to such incidents for fear of losing their jobs. The union will ensure that after action has been taken against the employer, the employee would retain his or her position within the firm without fear of intimidation from that particular employer.
Bhagoliwal (2011) strongly supports the need to have unions among employees. This scholar says that in various parts of the world, especially in the developing countries, employees are given meager pay that is hardly able to meet their basic needs. Such employees would always be subjected to absolute poverty because their pay is not able to support basic needs. Such employees would be forced to stay in very remote parts of the city where rent is cheap, but living conditions is deplorable. Unions would come in handy and help advocate for the rights of such employees. The union would push for a minimum wage rate that would be able to sustain employees within the current living standards.
According to Rainnie (2011), unions remain very relevant in the current society. According to this scholar, unions offer employees to have a collective bargaining power. There are large organizations such as governments and multinational corporations, which employ a large number of employees within a country. An employee as an individual may not champion for positive changes to be made in the working environment to make it more favorable for the employees. In such organizations, an employee as an individual may not make any impact that can create the desired changes. The best approach that can be taken in such cases is when employees unionize. It is only through such unionization that the employer will give them the desired attention. This is because the employer knows that such employees are talking as a unit, and why they decide to boycott their jobs, operations of the firm will be paralyzed.
According t Blanpain and Baker (2010), most of the employers feel at ease when employees are not unionized. They know that such employees do not have a collective bargain in their workplaces. Dealing with such employees is very easy because the management will be in a position to exercise the coercive power over the employees. Employees working under such conditions may not give any suggestion on management policies. The senior managers would ignore such information because they are inconsequential to the firm. However, the case is always different when employees are unionized. They will sit in a forum of employees as equals where they will be free to discuss their views concerning their working environment. They will send these views directly to the highest office of the employer, some of which are government offices.
The representatives would talk to the employer on equal terms, and there will be consequences stipulated for failure of implementing the recommendations made. The employer would have to abide by the demands of a union because the consequence of such a failure can paralyze operations of the firm. According to Kaufman (2012), current organizations have embraced downsizing. This involves retrenching some employees. Retrenchment always affects employees negatively. Some employers would retrench employees only to employ others later. Such actions should be discouraged, and the best approach to take is through unionization. Any employer who wishes to terminate contract of an employee before the contract date should compensate that employee fully.
There are a section of scholars and professionals who believe that unionization in the 21st in not necessary. According to Bhagoliwal (2011), the world is has changed, the time when unions were necessary are long gone. This scholar says that when unions were formed, most of the employees had the same technical skills and same experience. Most of the union members were laborers who had no special skills. This has changed in the world today. With emergent of different of different professions in the current society, different employees would have different demands based on their expertise and experience. For instance, within an airline company there are different employees with varying skills and experience (Blanpain & Baker, 2010).
A pilot and a driver of the firm’s staff van have different expertise. An aeronautical engineer and a loader have different skills. When brought together, these employees may not speak with one voice. The aeronautical engineer will demand a salary of about 9800 dollars per month, while to a loader 1000 dollars per month will be an attractive package. When the two are brought together under the same union and the loader is elected as the representative of the union, he will consider the demand of 9800 dollars per month unrealistic. He will therefore, fail to represent the interest of the engineer. When this happens, the essence of forming the union will be lost.
In the current society, employee relation is becoming more relevant than labor relations are. The workplace is increasingly getting individualistic, especially due to the differences that are witnessed among employees. It is not possible to find two employees with different capacities within an industry. This means that their remuneration cannot be the same. As performance appraisal is getting popular, every employee should bargain on an individualized basis other than through unions (Venkataramana, 2009). A case in point that disputes the need for unionization is the failed General Motors union of employees. This union was meant to represent the needs of employees within this firm. Through the union, employees felt that their interests would be taken care of. According to Bhagoliwal (2011), the leadership of most unions is always compromised.
The union leaders would focus on self-benefits instead of the interests of the members of the Union. This was part of the cause of failure of the union at General Motors. In some countries, unionization is illegalized. For instance, the labor laws in United Arab Emirates does not allow for the existence of labor unions. Instead, the country has enacted labor laws to ensure that the interests of employees are well taken care of within their respective workplaces. The employer will have the responsibility of obeying the law by respecting the rights of its employees or risk prosecution. This law represents the interests of employees better than individuals appointed to head unions. Employees would base their grievances on written law of the land. Employer will be forced to engage individual employee based on his or her value. The employees will base their case on the experience, skills and the value they bring to the firm.
Bhagoliwal, T. N. (2011). Industrial relations. Agra: Bhawan.
Blanpain, R., & Baker, J. (2010). Comparative labour law and industrial relations in industrialized market economies. Alphen: Kluwer Law International.
Kaufman, B. E. (2012). The origins & evolution of the field of industrial relations in the United States. Ithaca: ILR Press.
Kuhlmann, S. (2007). Industrial relations. Copenhagen: The Ministry of Labour, International Relations Division.
Palmer, G. (2003). British industrial relations. London: G. Allen & Unwin.
Rainnie, A. (2011). Industrial relations in small firms: Small isn’t beautiful. London: Routledge.
Venkataramana, P. (2009). Industrial relations. New Delhi: A.P.H. Publishers.