Continuing high levels of unemployment, massive
foreign debt, declining relative standards of living and
ever-increasing competition are creating pressures for
more workplace relations reform.
Higher productivity translates into higher wages, better
jobs and improved job security.
All parties agree reform is inevitable.
The problem is obtaining consensus about the type and
degree of change necessary.
The way people view the challenges of reform is in
large part influenced by their perspective on workplace
Some perceive workplace relations in terms of class
conflict, others in terms of mutual cooperation and
others still in terms of groups with competing
Human resource managers need to understand these
varying approaches because they provide the
ideological underpinning for much of the debate
about workplace reform and the role of HRM.
Workplace conflict is seen as a temporary aberration,
resulting from poor management, employees who do not
fit with the organisation’s culture or trade union activity.
Trade unions are regarded as competitors for the
employee’s commitment and cooperation.
The underlying assumption is that it is to the benefit of all
to focus on common interests and promote harmony.
Conflict in the form of strikes, therefore, is regarded as not
only unnecessary, but destructive.
Advocates of the unitary approach seek a radical overhaul
of the industrial relations system. Emphasis is on direct
negotiations with employees.
In contrast to the unitary approach, the pluralist
organisations as coalitions of competing
interests, where management’s role is to
mediate among the different interest groups
trade unions as legitimate representatives of
stability in workplace relations as the product
of concessions and compromises between
management and unions.
Marxists, like the pluralists, regard conflict between
management and employees as inevitable.
However, where pluralists see conflict inherent in all
organisations, Marxists see if as a product of a
Adversarial relations in the workplace are simply one
aspect of class conflict.
The Marxist approach thus focuses on the type of
society in which an organisation exists.
For the Marxist, therefore, all strikes are political.
The old system of compulsory arbitration encouraged trade
Union concerns have traditionally focused on pay rates,
conditions of work and job security.
Increasingly, however, unions are moving away from these bread
and butter issues and adopting an approach of strategic unionism
that includes industrial democracy, social welfare, training,
industrial policy and taxation.
Moreover, because most awards, determinations and industrial
agreements set only minimum rates and conditions, unions also
seek to negotiate above-award concessions from employers.
Some unions see enterprise bargaining as being limited to just
Reasons Why Employees Join
Pay and conditions
Health and safety
Grievances, Disputes and Industrial
The employee approaches his/her immediate supervisor
to discuss the grievance.
If the grievance remains unresolved, the employee next
approaches the shop steward who then approaches the
If the matter still remains unresolved, the shop steward
contacts a union organiser who negotiates with the HR
manager and/or a line manager and/or an employer
If the matter is still unresolved, it may be referred to
the IRC for conciliation.
Grievances are the product of employee dissatisfaction or
feelings of injustice.
Listen carefully to what the employee says and try to
distinguish between facts and feelings.
Managers should be sure that they have all of the relevant
Avoid lengthy delays.
Managers should also recognise that sometimes a union is
placed in the awkward position of having to argue a case it
does not genuinely support.
The successful handling of grievances is related to the
attitudes of the parties involved.
When a grievance cannot be resolved at the
workplace level, a HR manager may need to
present his or her organisation’s case before an
industrial tribunal such as the IRC.
HR managers must develop the skills and
confidence to take (and be given) the
responsibility for advocacy.
Who else has (or should have) as much knowledge
about past disputes, custom and practice,
personalities, pay rates and conditions as an
organisation’s HR manager?
Some Common Features of Enterprise
Emphasis on developing a workplace culture that encourages
enhanced productivity and efficiency
Promotion of mutual discussion between employers and
employees in a conflict-free environment
A focus on customer satisfaction with an emphasis on product
and service quality as a means of becoming more competitive
An emphasis on the need to implement workplace change to
ensure the survival of the enterprise by becoming
The changing nature of global markets and the
need to become more customer driven have
forced a critical re-examination of the way
workplace relations is handled.
Radical, pluralist and unitary approaches (in one
form or another) all have their supporters.