Industrial Relations

There are 3 perspectives on understanding the nature of workplace rules. They usually are referred to as ‘frames of reference’. The first debate on frames of references was made by Fox (1966), when he described and showed the differences between unitary and pluralist approaches. Unitary approach is the system based on employers and his employees’ identity of interest. There is only one source of authority and one focus of loyalty.

This is the reason that in unitary approach work is based on team work. Everybody within the team should do equally well as another member of the team and because of one leader, there is no rivalry between the members. Everybody accepts their roles and delivers what they are expected to deliver without any conflicts or mischiefs.

Conflict is not welcome and is referred to as pathological. The leaders are responsible for creating the loyalty and morale and success need to be maintained through personal relationships. Unitary approach however is seen as old-fashioned way to managing the workforce. Even though it was widely believed that unitary approach had unrealistic ideas, it was still believed by many managers that it should be harmony of interest in the workforce.

This view shows how the industry should look like and is best described as professional football team, where managers, trainers and board members are the leaders and footballers are engaged in team work to make team successful. In other words, team shares a close bond like a family and team’s glue is leader’s friendship with the rest of the team.

This approach is not accurate and impossible to analyse, because analysis can be done on the matters that are observed and recorded not just thoughts how it should be. Pluralists approach believes that conflict and differences of opinions do happen and looking at the ways of managing it.

Because of their own bases of authority, conflict and rivalry are inevitable. It is stated that plural society contains a lot of related but different interests and objectives, but they are maintained in some way of equilibrium. In pluralist approach there are 2 ways of employer-employee relationships: market relations and management relations. Market relations deal with the terms and conditions on which the employees were hired.

A century ago, employers had seen market relations as individual bargaining. If the employees, did not like working terms and conditions, they should go somewhere else and that way employers tried to assert absolute prerogatives over their labour force. However in these conditions individual workers were seen as much weaker than employers and it was believed employees should have a right to join other people in collective bargaining.

This was seen as the only protection in labour market against the fair wages and other working conditions. Management relations however, deal with what managers want to get out of their employees after they have been hired. This includes deploying, organising and disciplining the labour force after they have taken the employment. In pluralistic reference, union helps management with day to day management of employees in a joint decision making. Right to manage is the legitimation of disciplinary powers that employers claim over their workers.

Employers are seen as the owners of production tools and means and employees are acting as ‘agents’ by using employer’s resources in performing labour for which they are being rewarded for in a form of ‘wages’. It is often thought of ‘Master’s and servant’s’ relationship perspective as the employer has the upper hand in this relationship and is seen as much stronger side, because he owns resources and therefore he makes the rules.

If employee doesn’t like the working conditions, he can ask the help from the union through collective bargaining if he belongs to a union or simply choose to walk away from the job. Unitary perspective on industrial relations is mistaken for a few reasons. Firstly and mostly, the unitary approach doesn’t accept the conflict. It describes conflict as something bad and damaging and blames the managers for not being able to grow team’s loyalty and morale and accounts them as responsible ones for the problems within the team.

The managers should make sure that through close friendships the team’s spirit should be up and they would work to their best abilities. Secondly, there is just one leader and that’s why there is no rivalry or conflict. The leader decides what team’s goals and traits are and team doesn’t have any voice into it.

They are happily pulling up their weight and going forward with team’s plans and visions. Because there is no difference in opinions and leaders decide what is the vision and goals of the team, it doesn’t let the team to progress. During differences of opinions and conflict new approaches and ideas can be brought up to the table, which would give a different perspective and might help the business with reaching their goals quicker or in a different way. However unitary approach by not recognising any conflict stops teams from growing and changing.

The team can be successful only if it is dynamic and has movement. Without any new ideas brought from different angles, team lacks it and it will eventually slow team down. Thirdly, without employees having their right to ‘own voice’ to express their concerns over working time and conditions, all power will lay with the employers and employees will feel frustrated and unhappy.

Employees should have a right to ‘collective bargaining’ to express their concerns and frustration and reach the agreement where both sides are satisfied and while the stronger part is worse off, the weaker part is a better off. Without making somebody worse off, nobody can be better off and because the employees are the weaker part, employers should let go of some of the control over the labour to give fair treatment for the employees. Fourthly, restrictive practices are a big part of unitary approach failing.

Employees are simply restricted for voicing their concerns and cannot improve their living and working conditions, because the employers are resistant to change. This is viewed by pluralistic view as stupidity and old fashioned approach. Pluralistic view understands and takes into account that employees want to increase or stabilise their earnings, protect their place of work and maintain the job to the best ability they can. Pluralism and unitarism contradicts each other and therefore cannot be working alongside of each other.

In these days there are managers, who are still using unitary approach, there are some, who use pluralism approach and those, who use a bit of both. However different both approaches are, some ideas can be taken from both of them and integrated into something worthwhile. For example, pluralist approach on conflict is very healthy understanding that conflict if it is managed correctly and differences of opinions let the organisation grow and see other angles of the situation.

This would allow business to get some new fresh ideas which might be a breakthrough in long term plans and ideas. From the unitary approach, team work can be used as the way of working together on reaching the same goals and targets. However the team should not be restricted from voicing their opinions and management should not be resistant to change. Team work is in most cases the best practise to work in business and it helps people within the team with their morale and loyalty.

People always needed to belong to a group and belongingness feeling makes people happier, more settled and assured that in a case of difficulties or struggle team will be able to pull each other up if needed. In conclusion it is fair to say that in these days pluralism has been undertaken by unitary approach as most of the businesses are using team work and one or more leaders to manage the team and they do think that the conflict is damaging and bad for businesses. However teams’ members’ individual ideas are welcome and leaders do understand that change is inevitable as technical progress requires new approaches and ideas all the time.