Employment relations

This assignment is going to argue to what degree conflict is inherent in employment relationships and also how it may not be inherent. In the broader sense management styles do have an impact, but for the purpose of this assignment I am focusing on conflict and the perspectives. Hyman (1975) defined employment relationship as “the authorisation of day to day work relations that affect employees and employers”. However there are three dominating factors that determine the relationship these being economic, legal and social factors. These can often be the catalyst for conflict between the two parties in the employment relationship. Davidson & Griffin (2001, p114), stated conflict “is a disagreement between two or more industrial groups or organisations”.

The issue of how inherent conflict is managed must also be dealt with by looking at the three different ideologies of unitarist, radical and pluralist perspectives (Ed Rose, pg26-28). Within the employment relationship where does the balance of power lie? Bargaining power is a key concept of the employment relationship which influences “the selection by the employer of the appropriate employee relation processes, the subject matter of agreements between employers and their employees, whether agreements are jointly authorised by employers and employees or solely written by one of the parties, and whether an agreement is closer to the ideal interests of employers or those of employees” (Gennard & Judge 1997, p31).

Wishart (1992), (cited in Mabey, Skinner & Clark p71) stated a unitarist view is based “on a mutual cooperation, a shared goal and harmony of interest between the employees and the employers”. In these instances both employees and employers see unions as an unwanted disturbance to the organisation and if conflict arises it is often caused by irrational behaviour which may often result from personality clashes. Under this approach it tends not to be seen as a direct result of management failure. Unitarist views are therefore not a “them and us” situation but a feeling of togetherness and fairness. Over the years surveys have showed that managers continue to believe in harmony and trust and focus on Human Resource Management (HRM).

In the 1998 Workplace Employee Relations Managers survey it was shown that 72% of workplace managers would rather deal with employees directly than go through Trade Unions (TU) (Paul Edwards 2003, p10-11). Organisations that adopt this perspective are often based on a management’s prerogative that is perceived as legitimate and rational. Unitarists are reluctant to acknowledge the role of TU, they believe that they are not required to protect employees because of the advent of HRM. After analysing this perspective it indicates to me that organisations that use this approach have the interest of all staff at heart when decisions are being made, and is based on a common goal/s being shared to achieve the set objective/s. Employers empower individuals in their roles and encourage team work.

This approach reflects the vision of McGregor’s theory (1960’s) of the Y manager and as a result of this it is deemed unnecessary for the need of TU’s as there is loyalty between employees and employers. Organisations like Motorola and John Lewis Partnership believe in this approach where all workers have a real say. In the latter this is achieved through the established principles of democracy. The unitarist approach has a focus on team management and employees are seen as partners in the organisation. The first UK study found that 67% of manual workers agreed with this statement that team work means success (Goldthorpe et all 1968 p78, cited in Edwards, P (2004))

In contrast to this, a pluralist recognises that conflict is inevitable and rational within an organisation. The major difference between the pluralist and the unitarist perspective is the acknowledgment of enterprises, Bray et all (2005) p13, stated this perspective “contains people with a variety of interest aims and aspirations. Power is shared so there is no single dominant party”. Organisations that adopt this approach tend to be diverse and always have tension resulting from inherent conflict of interest “whenever there are separate sources of authority there is a risk of conflict” (Paul Edwards 2003, p11) (6). TUs are viewed as the legitimate representatives of employee interests at work, and have the right to challenge management (Deery et all 2002 p64).

The final perspective is the radical view, which is broader than the other approaches but does share the pluralist idea of inherent conflict between employee and employer and that it is human nature, however the radicalists believe that conflict derives from the unequal distribution of income and wealth in society. Deery et all (2002) p68, stated “that the vulnerability of employees as individuals leads them to form unions so they can challenge management and the inequality of society and exploitation”.

The radical perspective is inherent due to the balance of power and the nature of a political, economical and capitalist society. Labour is used when needed and the profit earned is of primary importance compared to that of wages paid. The inequalities depend on the amount of power and wealth an employer/organisation has. Conflict in these instances can be seen as inevitable and an employee’s response to capitalism allows employers to control and legitimise their use of power over employees. The nature of conflict I believe is seen as inherent in economical and social system and is resolved through a change in society.

Within nearly every organisation conflict occurs from time to time between employers and employees, this could be in terms of misunderstandings or disagreements. Ramsey (2003) stated “conflict often can be hidden in the workplace and as a result has not been dealt with”. This therefore can lead to a decrease in staff morale and de-motivation of employees. After reading Salaman (2002) I feel that he believes that management power is very strong and that employees only have industrial action to take.

The employer has a greater ability to affect the employee’s world than the employee does the employers world. During 1998 and 2004 there was little change in terms of industrial action and it remained low. 5% of managers reported a collective dispute and 8% of employers reported an employment tribunal being claimed against them (economical & social research council (2005) p4.