Approaches to Industrial Relations

22/08/2022 1 By indiafreenotes

The industrial relations scenario and factors affecting it, has been perceived differently by different practitioners and theorists. Some have viewed IR problems in terms of class conflict; some have viewed it in terms of mutuality of interests of different groups; some have viewed it as a consequence of interaction of various factors both within an organization and outside it; and so.

Unitary Approach

The basic assumption in unitary approach is that everyone benefits when the focus is on common interest and promotion of harmony. IR is grounded on mutual cooperation, individual treatment of employees, teamwork, and shared goals. Workplace conflict is seen as a temporary aberration resulting from poor management of employees, or the mismatch between employees and organizational culture.

In other cases, employees cooperate with management and accept their right to manage the affairs of the organization. The earlier theorists have emphasized employee-oriented organizational processes to integrate the employees with the organization.

This approach appears to be good in its orientation as it emphasizes employees in the organization. However, it has failed to consider different variables affecting IR within individual organizations and the total industrial sector. Various such approaches like paternalistic and philanthropic have failed because of the wrong assumptions made about the work behaviour of employees. This approach has been criticized on the basis that it is manipulative and exploitative.

Systems Approach

The systems approach of IR was developed by John Dunlop in 1958. He has presented a systematic theoretical orientation to the study of industrial relations. Before him, others have theorized industrial relations in terms of trade union purpose and collective bargaining but Dunlop has taken it in more comprehensive way. Therefore, he is regarded as father of industrial relations.

According to Dunlop, industrial relations system is a distinctive subsystem of society on the same logical plane as an economic system. Like the economic system, it is an abstraction. There are no actors whose activity is confined solely to the industrial relations or economic sphere.

Neither an economic system nor an IR system is designed simply to describe in factual terms the real world of time and space. Both are abstractions designed to highlight relationships.

There are three sets of actors and their interrelationships which are central to understanding the IR system:

  1. A hierarchy of managers;
  2. A hierarchy of workers who are never without informal organization even if they are not formally organized in a trade union; and
  3. Specialized government agencies concerned with the relationship between workers and their organizations.

By interacting with each other, these three sets of actors establish rules which govern the workplace and the work community. Dunlop has observed that “just as the satisfaction of wants through the production and exchange of goods and services is the locus of analysis in the economic subsystem, so the establishment and administration of these rules is the major concern or output of the industrial relations subsystem.” It is these rules and procedures for their application which distinguish one IR system from others.

Dunlop has emphasized that three actors of IR are not free. Their interactions are influenced by forces in the environment, the most important of them being technology, markets, and power relations in the wider society. He further, argues that an IR system is essentially stable and cohesive.

While there is a conflict of interests between the actors, there is also a body of common ideas that each actor holds towards the place and function of the others in the system. This shared ideology and compatibility of views enables them to resolve conflict by framing appropriate rules.

Dunlop’s approach of IR has provided a much wider framework for developing IR strategy in organizations. However, this approach has been criticized both in terms of conceptual framework as well as its application in practice. For example, Dunlop’s model works fairly well as long as the environment and the practices of the parties remain stable.

However, the systems framework, with its stability and shared consensus among the actors concerning their respective roles, has a difficult time explaining the dynamic aspects of industrial relations.

Pluralistic Approach

The basic emphasis of pluralistic approach is that an organization is a coalition of interested groups headed by the top management which serves the long-term needs of the organization as a whole by paying due concern to all the interest groups affected employees, shareholders, consumers, and society.

In this process, there is possibility that the management may pay insufficient heed to the needs and claims of employees, and they may unite to bring collaborative force for the acceptance of these needs and claims. Thus, the stability in IR system is the product of concessions and compromises between management and unions.

The pluralistic approach assumes that labour and management have many conflicting interests, but such conflicts are not only natural but even necessary because it is only competing social forces which can constrain and check the exercise of absolute power. The role of State is quite limited in IR system and should not have excessive influence on any party to IR.

The stress is on a negotiated order, a voluntary reconciliation between opposing forces with minimal intervention from external agencies. For example, through collective organization in trade unions, employees mobilize themselves to meet management on equal terms to negotiate the terms of their collaboration.

Marxist Approach:

As against Reformist approach there emerged another school that emphasized revolution and class struggle for attaining the egalitarian society. The founder of this school, Karl Marx advocated complete socialization of production as the only method of putting an end to the concentration of wealth and to the exploitation of workers by the owners of capital. Under this approach all the enterprises are owned by the State and the workers themselves constitute the management.

The class structure of the society was buttressed by the State that was under the control of capitalist running class. Therefore, the remedy was for the workers to destroy this state and set up proletarian state. This approach takes the color of workers’ control rather than that of workers’ participation as it contemplates workers as management themselves.

Syndicalism Approach:

France was the original home of Syndicalism blending Anarchist Communism with trade unionism in its most popular time. The doctrine was responsible for movements for workers’ control in countries as far as Norway and Australia. Anarchism is the father of Syndicalism, but trade unionism is its mother.

Pluralistic Approach:

This philosophy is applicable mainly in Britain, Japan and America. Allan Flaunders, Clegg and other are the main profounder. According to this approach, collective bargaining is the mode of participation and is the method of solving the disputes between management and the workers by negotiation.

Conflict is endemic in an industrial organization. According to this conflict theory of trade unionism the management shows an inherent tendency to overlook the interests of workers and it always tries to exploit labor and due to that, management must, therefore, be coerced and threatened with obstructive policies and practices in order to safeguard and promote the interest of workers.

Socialistic Approach:

Socialistic approach considers workers’ participation in management as an important factor in the development and perfection of socialistic democracy. This ensures fullest decentralization and participation in management as multi-dimensional program for socialist construction. The economic reconstruction is based upon the nationalization of the means of production and exchange.

Under Communism, state machinery is abolished and the functions of the State are taken away by the society through public organization based on mutual consent and co-operation and the compulsion element in relation to members of the society is removed. In the process of taking away powers from the state and delegating its functions to the society, workers’ participation in management is of great importance.

Integrative Approach of Business:

In the present age, in contrast to past, a trade union has become essentially a social organization looking after the all-round interests of workers as a social group. The trade union must play the more positive role of sharing in the development of industry and of preparing and training workers to discharge their responsibilities as citizens.

The industry has certain responsibilities to fulfill towards the employees, the shareholders, the consumers, and community and above all towards the nation. To the employee it must offer fair and appropriate conditions of service, and opportunity for industrial development, satisfaction of the urge for status, dignity and fellowship.