Managing Workplace Relations in Great Transformations

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The study of industrial relations was partly a result of the ascending and descending of the trade unions and communal negotiation in the twentieth century. “Throughout that time the phrase ‘industrial relations’ was often synonymous in popular discourse with union power and strikes, whereas collective bargaining was widely regarded, not least by state policy makers, as an adversarial process reflecting ‘them and us’ attitudes on both sides of industry” (Kelly 2002, P. xxv). Rarely are there developments in the field of industrial relations a collection of powers that sweep up the organizations in a considerably different direction. This is the case with employment market suppleness and the expansion of new models of employment (Gladstone, 1992, p. 17).

Productive employees have always been given a place of special importance in industrial relations writing. These are the largest single group in industrial society and play a very great role in the development of the industries. They are the foundation on which the wealth of a nation decisively lies. This has also been contributed by the fact that working people together with their families conventionally bear the impact of changes in the labor market and the brunt of highly developed technologies (Poole, 2003, p. 66).

The strategies followed by specific labor associations are determined by choices and attached to unique orientations as well as the educational and ideological situation in which they are created. But these choices are subject to several restraints such as financial and political systems, technology as well as allocation of power in the social order (Poole, 2003, p. 67).

There have been changes in industrial relations in the private sector in the recent past. Most of these changes have been noted in negotiations of wages, work practice, benefits as well as tradeoffs and employment security allowances (Balfour, 1972, p. 3). Other changes have been silent and are taking place at a slower rate. At the place of work, there are new forms of employee participation and work organizations that have come up. Likewise, there are significant changes in the way decisions are made in a corporation particularly where basic policies concerning human resources, technology, and the standing of unions are formed (Kelly 2002, P. 69).

Trade Unions and recent changes

According to Poole, (2003, p. 67) “Trade unionism under collective bargaining is advanced by a high degree of industrialization, a market economy with a substantial private sector, a democratic political system, and pluralist institutional forms which ensure that trade unions are largely independent of state and management.” The differences in the strength of trade unions in different countries can only be explained in a better way by public policies by which communal bargaining is sustained. Referring partly to the labor strategies, they are also affected by administrative as well as state policies that recognize the trade unions (Balfour, 1972, p.3).

The changes in these patterns have mainly been contributed by the economic conditions like fluctuations in prices, wages, and increases in levels of unemployment. This has also been contributed by diversity in acknowledgment policies attached to the normal political conditions. However, changes in the structures of trade unions are linked to technology and industrial association, ways in which trade unions are regulated, knowledge, in addition to the attitudes of white-collar employees (Palmer, 1983, p. 94).

There are certain conditions under which trade unions are founded and these determine their functionality. Trade unions that are formed political, religious, or nationalist goals form the foundation of industrialism and have a major role in planning the economic and industrial relations for the state. Other trade unions are integrative in socialist countries and are a result of historical choices that are guided by finely tuned ideologies in situations of governance by party and state. Changes in trade unions that are formed based on political objectives result from changes in the choices due to decentralization of the economy and restructuring of political systems. Changes in cultural and ethical values in addition to different forms of ideologies result in changes in the trade unions found in socialist countries.

There are strategic choices that have been adopted by representatives of labor to promote the interests of the employees in these three main areas: owning the employing enterprise, management of work actions in addition to the levels and structures of payments to different groups of workers and the governmental activities that affect the regulation of the employment relations as well a the comprehensive policies on employment and social security (Poole, 2003, p. 67).

There have been several changes in the way trade unions operate and their effect on the industries. In Europe, the government has separated itself from the trade unions treating them as special interest groups and not as essential elements of labor movements. At first, the trade unions were slow in meeting the neo-liberal challenge thus increasing its effect. However, there are a variety of changes that are going on in all levels of trade unionism.

In Europe, The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has forsaken major parts of the structure of its committee to take up a more campaigning role. This also worked in favor of reducing the opposition from most of the British unions that were facing the European Union (EU). Trade union mergers have continued to bring new reforms in the structure of trade unions to recruit and retain the activities. These efforts have not only been unable to revive the political control of trade unions but they have not also stopped the decline of the union membership (Howell, 1983,. p.269).

Most of the trade unions abandoned their traditional sources of power and influence. This added disasters in the ways by which the unions collected the issues and grudges of their members and present them to their employers and the government. An increase indifference amongst members led to the development of smaller and internal unions that we’re able to accommodate more workers within a particular company. This helped increase the number of interests that were submitted inside the bargaining programs. Most of the unions have stressed reforming their policies, structures as well as activities to curb these crises.

However, there is fear due to the agendas of policies and activities that are not yet solved. Most of the trade unions are now pushing for social partnership between workers and employers. This allows the employers to be partners in pursuit of mutual benefits. This could not be true since mainly it is the threats that the employers pose to workers that influence the urge for organizing model. This model presumes that the worker will join the union to seek protection from the employer’s actions (Edwards and Edwards, 2003, p. 215).


There have been several challenges that led to declining of trade unions as well as exclusion. These challenges have paved the way for the introduction of national systems and an independent labor market.

The political challenge

The Conservative governments came up with three major political objectives against the trade unions. They excluded the unions from any responsibility in state policymaking. They changed the significance of the internal union democratic system by forcing the unions to accept diplomatic forms of democratic systems instead of the participative forms. The government also encouraged the administration to presume greater management within the workplace.

The barring of trade unions from the international fiscal and communal strategy was accomplished after 1979. According to Edwards and Edwards (2003, p. 217), “many of the institutions central to even the dilute forms of corporatism that characterized the UK during the 1970s were dismantled, principal among which were the Industrial Training Boards, the National Enterprise Council and, in 1992, the National Economic Development Council.”

The TUC made attempts in 1983 to revive links with the government and employers and called it ‘New Realism’ which had formulated other policies to look into the escalating rates of unemployment. This was objected and unions were banned from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Later the conservative government followed its second goal of controlling how decisions were made in unions as well as the electoral processes (Edwards and Edwards, 2003, p. 217).

There have been a lot of changes in legislation which has led to the centralization of the union government. Reduced membership participation in elections for big positions in many unions was a result of the introduction of postal ballots. This resulted in the decline of the responsibility and control of unions within the autonomous procedure of liaison levels. There are differences in the degree to which industrial nations depend on government legislation to establish the processes of communal bargaining, to secure the substantive conditions of employment in addition to resolving arguments (Bean, 1994, p. 103).

Strategic choices and industrial relations

There have been discussions dealing with the theory of industrial relations since the beginning of the twentieth century when the institutional economists confronted the importance of the classical financial side as practical to the employment connection. This drove the emergence of standpoints that led to the recognition of the conflicts that were there between the managers and the labor. This formed the basis for the legislation of labor. As there was an increase in levels of industrialization, there emerged other systems of industrial relations that were to come up with collective laws and regulations. There have arisen several diversities in industrial relations. Some of the factors that have contributed to these diversities are going to be discussed here (Beardwell, 1996, p. 106).

The decline in union membership

The collective bargaining that had been developed by the legislation acted as the foundation of the national labor policy. There were assumptions that unionism would grow as employees adopted bargaining as the way by which their interests would be asserted. This is not so since the percentage of the nonagricultural labor force that has joined a union has decreased steadily. In America, most of the upcoming development sectors of the economy have no unions. Union membership is only found in the old companies. Parties and the environment are the main causes of the decline of union membership.

Changes in managerial values

There have occurred significant changes in the strategies of management. Long before the twenties, it was neither socially nor politically allowed for American management to accept none—union approach. Most organizations make all efforts to avoid unions. Most American employers do not believe that independent employees have a rightful role in the organization. This revolution in the administration’s view has come along with a rearrangement of many organizations’ industrial relations, most of them adopting the HR functions that do not support unions. There have been inconsistencies in the administration’s relationship with unions at different ranks of the organization.

According to Kelly (2002, p. 71) “management representatives in bargaining are maintaining a status-quo relationship in negotiations (or seeking plant level concessions) while corporate management follows an aggressive union avoidance policy concerning the placement of new plants, and shop floor management works to promote worker involvement and participation.”

Managerial initiative

After the Second World War, there were many changes in the terms and conditions of employment that were brought about by union demands. These developments were later transformed to the nonunion region. The administration has of late been taking the inventiveness in the bargaining strain as well as establishing innovations in staff practices in nonunion employment. Administration strains have brought about changes in the contracts that are secured through communal bargaining and this has worsened the stipulations and states of employment (Barbash and Barbash, 1983, p. 124).

Labour market flexibility

There has been a lot of flexibility in labor relations over the last decade. This has mainly affected the working time among other implications, especially in industrial relations. According to Gladstone (1992, p. 159), “Waste of human capital occurs in both systems- in capitalist countries by failure to utilize a large part of labour, in socialist counties by high inefficient use of labour.” ‘Better utilization’ of work in socialist countries refers to the distribution of work according to the expenses and output of labor. This can as well be stated as an improvement of cost accountability by not allowing the key productive force in socialist nations to run into waste as has been the case in the past.

There is a need for fundamental reform in every aspect of the employment system. There is a need for the creation of public employment services to deal with the rising unemployment, mainly to provide more retaining for the displaced.

State role in industrial relations

The government plays a major role in industrial relations. It is the most important component in establishing the official atmosphere by which industrial relations function. The government can be taken as a performer within industrial relations playing several varied roles. The main role of the government is assuming the position of a third-party regulator in promoting an official framework that institutes common ground laws union-management interaction, especially in the system of communal bargaining.

More so, the government composes legislative provisions relating to minimum states of employment comprising health and safety and in some nations wages and working hours. “The law can be used to establish minimum standards while collective bargaining exploits particular advantages to secure higher standards wherever it cans…The law can also be used to generalize concessions gained through collective bargaining and to enforce them on recalcitrant employers” (Bean, 1994, p. 102).

It is the role of the government to provide state services for reconciliation, medication as well as mediation to facilitate the resolution of industrial quarrels. In the United States and Britain, there is a large variety of public peace-making organizations but they are not so many in the case of France and Germany. Another rather increasingly significant role of the government is to act as a main employer in the public region. “Due to this, the more the significance of government as an employer, the more pervasive is its influence likely to be on bargaining developments and the content of agreements, since it may then influence the pattern of industrial relations by its own behavior and example” (Bean, 1994, p. 103).

Independent labor market

Industry-wide and broader-based decision-making structures perform a very great role in industrial relations. They grant the availability of other organizations and procedures to set transitional principles of employment. Without the medium for a broader foundation of group solidarity, the alarm would be that an autonomous and remote works committee would be susceptible to employer pressure and eventual management.

If confined decision-making organizations were deprived of the protection of the broader law-making procedure by which unions can retain their authority, there is fear that they would finally disintegrate into minutes other than corporation-dominated organizations.

The case would be that the efficiency of the negotiation understanding in the confined organizations that have been up-and-coming across the board in the latest years was significantly reliant upon these sustaining systems at the rank of business and the financial system as a whole. Labour movements have been prone to the risk that autonomous local resolution-making procedures like work committees might be used as a device to distort rather than advance the communal depiction of employees’ interest (Rubery and Wilkinson, 1994, p. 3).

It is generally essential to know that any structure of communal labor relationships, at whatsoever rank it is accomplished needs a tough self-governing labor association if it is to improve the prospect of employees to contribute efficiently in resolving the set of laws that administer the workplace. However, this does not dictate that business-wide bargaining can be the only way by which a workable and autonomous labor association can both come up and continue to exist (Walker, 1970, p. 45).

However, prone to cooptation and intimidation the labor association may have been when plant councils experienced their terminated liberation in North America, which is not very susceptible today. Therefore business-wide bargaining must not be in any chance important to the reliability as well as the efficiency of a structure of worker contribution founded on a standard of intentional or plural depiction than was the implementation of any particular law of argument ruling. Resolution making systems foreseen on a standard of intentional depiction could not be well-thought-out sensible alternating ways of representing workers collectively if the parties accountable for their accomplishment and function were not dedicated to their achievement (Beatty, 1987, p. 171)


According to this discussion, it is clear that there has been a decline in trade unionism as the independent labor market is coming up. This has resulted in to increase in unemployment as well as the exploitation of the workers (Godfrey, 1997, p. 85).

The change in the management systems has adversely affected the trade unions. With the change of technology and industrialization, most countries have sought better ways in which they can reduce costs and increase production. They have come up with strategies that do not accommodate the labor movements. Most of the companies have introduced contracts which they then manipulate to suit the companies’ objectives. Change in politics has also affected the trade unions. Initially, most of the politically based trade unions were very strong when they were still following these policies. Since technology and policies are changing day by day, this will result to change in collective bargaining and labor movements.

Reference List

Balfour, C., 1972. Industrial relations in the common market. London, Routledge. Web.

Barbash, J. and Barbash, K., 1989. Theories and concepts in comparative industrial relations. Columbia, University of South Carolina Press. Web.

Bean, R., 1994. Comparative Industrial relations: an introduction to cross-national perspectives. NJ, Routledge. Web.

Beardwell, I., 1996. Contemporary industrial relations: a critical analysis. New York, Oxford University Press. Web.

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Edwards, P. and Edwards, P. K., 2003. Industrial Relations: theory and practice. NY, Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Web.

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Howell, D., 1983. British workers and the independent labour party, 1888-1906. Manchester, Manchester University Press. Web.

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Royle, T. and Towers, B. Labour relations in the global fast food industry. London, Routledge. Web.

Rubery, J. and Wilkinson, F., 1994. Employer strategy and the labour market. NY, Oxford University Press Inc. Web.

Walker, K. F., 1970. Australian industrial relations systems. London, Oxford University Press. Web.

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