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Industrial Relationship Definition Essay

Industrial Relations

The subject area of Industrial Relations is one of the most discussed specialist areas of organisational and national economic management(Gunnigle, Flood, Morley and Turner 1998). The public elevation of the subject is primarily reasoned to its headline making capacity,when in the struggle of industrial action, mass redundancy and wage bargaining. This events often become materialised, in which attracts extensive media coverage and high public interest, for example the nurses' dispute and The Garda Siochana 'blue flu' strike. Industrial Relations does not easily lend itself to definition. However, the main focus of the subject is on the employment relationship of about one and a half million employees in the Republic, across all sectors and entities. These include the national or local government, private companies extending from multinational subsidiaries to local corner shops semi-state companies single domestic employers and co-operatives spanning both union and nonunion enterprises.(Gunnigle, Mcmahon and fitzgerald.1998). Even the term industrial relations itself holds associations with the traditional unionised 'blue collar' working environment in the manufacturing sector while the term employee relations is more in line with the non unionised white collar service sector. As With most subjects, a narrow conception does not allow for complete understanding. Therefore the subject of Industrial Relations can be best understood and interpreted in the wider context of historical, political, social and economic elements, in which will be discussed in the document, and have shaped the regulation of working lives and have been major influences which have impacted on the significant changes in the Irish Industrial Relations landscape over the last 30 years.

3.0 The Industrial Relations Act 1990

The introduction of The Industrial relations act 1990 was certainly a major influence which impacted significant changes in the irish industrial relation landscape. The provisions of the Act can be divided broadly between trade union law and industrial relations law which are the reformation of trade dispute law, the introduction of pre-strike secret ballot rules, the restriction of the use of injunctions in trade disputes, the facilitation of the further rationalisation of the trade union movement and also to provide for the establishment of a new Labour Relations Commission
with overall responsibility for the promotion of good industrial relations, changes in the procedure for referral of disputes to the Labour Court, amended procedures governing the establishment and operation of Joint Labour Committees improvement of the arrangements for the enforcement of Employment Regulations Orders and Registered Employment Agreements. The purpose of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990 was to put in place an improved framework for the conduct of industrial relations and for the resolution of trade disputes with the aim of maintaining a stable and orderly industrial relations climate.(DJEI,2013).

3.1 The Labour Court

The labour court is the main institution in ireland for the resolution of trade disputes. The labour court was established firstly by the industrial relations act of 1946, with the main provisions of the act 'to make further and better provisions for promoting harmonious relations between workers and their employers disputes'(Industrial relations act 1946). the role of the labour court changed significantly when the industrial relations act 1990 was introduced, as it passed many of its functions to the labour relations commission, which was established under the act. The main role of the labour court in the irish industrial relations scene was now to investigate and make recommendations on cases referred to it by parties in dispute.These are normally situations where parties have failed to reach a decision or compromise. The labour courts referral procedure requires that in the first stage the parties in dispute are obliged to avail of the service of conciliation provided by the labour relations commission. If the issue is still unresolved prior to availing of this service, it may then be referred to the Labour court for investigation.

Before the reformation of the Industrial Relations act 1990 the number of disputes referred to the labour court throughout 1980's referrals were at their peak level when it issued 1045 recommendations in 1983. the court itself attributed this enormous increase in to a general over dependence on the court and in many cases failure of the parties to conduct full and meaningful negotiations at local level. Therefore the reformation of the labour courts functions in the industrial relations act 1990 significantly impacted on the industrial relations landscape over the past 30 years.the number of recommendations issued in the 1990's . Murphy (1997) attributes this to fewer referrals to the court because of the more vigorous policy towards the settlement of disputes at conciliation stages.

4.0 Trade Unions

'Trade unions have traditionally been seen as the most effective means of countering employer power and achieving satisfactory pay and working conditions. their role is well established in the irish context with legislation dealing with the legal recognition of trade unions dating back to pre- interdependence days'.(Gunnigle, McMahon and Fitzgerald). Trade unions have gained the status as the best mechanism for workers,of both staff associations and individual bargaining and to government and employer organisations on a broader political level. Trade Unions main aim is to unite workers with common interests while seeking to define those interests, express them and safeguard them thorough their intereactions.By joining trade unions employees provide themselfs with collective means to redress twith the collective bargaining power that is often thought to exist between employees and employers. Webbs(1920) defined trade union as 'a continuous association of wage earners with the objective of improving or maintaining conditions of employment'.

4.1 Union Density

Patterns in Union density have brought about considerable change in the irish industrial landscape. From the trends in union membership in the 1990's we find that the figures from DUES data series indicate an overall increase in union membership but a significant downward trend in union density. Table 4.1 shows that Union membership rose from 440,000 in 1988 to over 504,00 in 1995. this increase represents the fact that there were more people in employment than ever before. however if we consider trends in union density the diagram is not so positive for trade unions. it shows that although union memberships are increasing, trade union density is falling. there was a fall of 9% in union density between 1980 and 1998. Roche and Ashmore (1998). Since the 1980s we have seen the development of broad ranging centralised agreements between the social partners. the model facilitates a high level of union influence on economic and social policy decisions. The rise in Human Resource Management practices began to induce a substitution of membership. 'Fiorito et al (1987) argues that HRM practices are often part of attempts by employers to either substitute for or avoid trade unions.'
Gunnigle, McMahon and Fitzpatrick(1998). in evaluating implications for industrial relations, the adoption of HRM practices presents an explicit challenge to collective bargaining and trade unions. an area of major importance in impact of HRM and industrial relations is the issue of trade union recognition. In Ireland the past two decades have seen a huge growth in non-union approaches. it is likely that a lot of firms adopted a union subscription strategy involving the adoption of HRM practices designed to eliminate employee needs for collection representation, by handling grievances promptly.

5.0 Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining is the process through which agreement on pay, working conditions, procedures and other negotiable is reached between unionised employees and management. collective bargaining represents a mechanism through which divergent interest in organisations a and the interests of employees and employers are reconciled through an orderly process involving negotiating and compromising.
since the introduction of collective bargaining in 1941 it has been described as the central institution of behavior between union employees and employers in ireland the irish system is characterised essentially as a voluntaristic system as there are no legal obligations to practice collective bargaining. the employers engage in collective bargaining on pay or any other issue at negotiable level. the system is described as being binding in 'honor only'.

The development of the institution of collective bargaining in ireland can be traced with reference to a number of distinct temporal spans such as;
- The late nineteenth century to 1941
-1941- 1946
- the wage rounds from 1946-69
-the sequence of national wage agreements from 1970-80
- the period of decentralised bargaining between 1982 and 1987; and
- the most current period of national bargaining which was initiated by the programme for national recovery in 1987 and continues under partnership 2000 for inclusion, employment and competitiveness

5.1 Partnership 2000 for Inclusion, Employment and Competitiveness
The Partnership 2000 for Inclusion, Employment and Competitiveness agreement provided significant change to the irish industrial landscape. Partnership 2000 provided for pay increases of up to 9.5 percent over a thirty nine month period(Gunnigle, McMahon and Fitzgerald). the basic deal involves phased basis increases.

Partnership 2000 was described by Gunnigle, McMahon and Fitzpatrick as the most ambitious national agreement to date. it continues the established pattern of bargained national agreements for socio-economic policies but extends this pattern a lot. it sets out for the creation of a wider social contract. Von prondzynski (1998) partnership 2000 as representing a change of direction when compared with other national agreements since 1987. he views the agreement as not only focused on the economic competitiveness, in which he finds the respective order of the title is significant. 'Von Prondzynski suggests that the emphasis has shifted from containing costs and combating inflation to protecting livelihoods and promoting employment and argues that in respect the corporatist tendencies of the irish industrial relations system have been given a significant boost after ambiguities of the previous agreements'. Gunnigle, McMahon and Fitzgerald(1998)

6.0 HRM and Industrial Relations

Human resource management refers to the development of a strategic corporate approach to workforce management (Beer et al.,1984). As sparrow and hiltrop specifically note, while HRM as a generic concept has been around for many years, it was the movement to more closely align workforce management and strategic decision making which differentiated HRM from traditional personnel management.Gunnigle, McMahon and Fitzgerald(1998).

Industrial Relations practice in ireland has always been associated with a strong diversified orientation. as such, management approaches were seen as reactive, dealing with ranges of problems of the workforce management. this emphasis is generally linked to a historical preference for a collectivist approach to management-industrial relations involving collective bargaining with trade unions ( roche,1990). Gunnigle, McMahon and Fitzgerald also noted that, since the early 1980's Industrial Relations at enterprise level has undergone a considerable amount of change. In particular an increasing focus on the utilisation of HRM approaches by foreign-owned, non-union organisations. ' The emergence human resource management is probably the most important development in contemporary literature. In particular, we find the contention that HRM-based approaches are increasingly being adopted by employers and significantly impacting key aspects of enterprise level industrial relations, such as argued decline in the importance of collective bargaining and the growth of non- union approaches'.

7.0 References

- Industrial Relations In Ireland, Theory and Practice, Second Edition. 1998
Patrick Gunnigle, Gerard McMahon and Gerard Fitzgerald

-Industrial Relations In Ireland, Contemporary Issues and Developments 1989 Revised Edition
Department of Industrial Relations, Faculty of Commerce, University College Dublin.

- Continuity & Change in Irish Employee Relations 1998
Patrick Gunnigle, Patrick Flood, Michael Morley, Thomas Turner

- Irish Industrial Relations in Practice
Thomas V. Murphy & William K. Roche

-The Industrial Relations Act 1990 Explanatory Booklet
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

-The Industrial Relations Act 1946
The Irish Statute Book

Source: Essay UK - http://www.essay.uk.com/free-essays/economics/industrial-relations.php

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This essay focuses on the three dominant perspectives in industrial relations. These perspectives are unitary perspective, pluralist perspective and Marxist perspective as Dzimbiri (2008) suggests. The essay discusses each perspective in detail and further analyzes the one which provide an explanation of the employment relations in the modern work organizations. Having done that the essay finally gives a conclusion. It has to be mentioned that in the beginning, the essay starts by defining the term ‘Industrial Relations’.


According to Kochan in Dzimbiri (2008) Industrial Relations is defined as “all aspects of people at work as individuals and groups, organized or unorganized, the behavior of employer and union organization together with public policy or legal framework governing employment conditions.” On the other hand, Clegg in Blyton andTurbull (2004:29) defines industrial relations as “the study of rules governing employment, together with the ways in which the rules are made and changed, interpreted and administered.”

The two definitions imply that industrial relations involve regulation of the employment relationship between employers and employees. In both definitions, the employment relationship is based on the rules, procedures and practices which the concerned parties have to adhere to. Therefore, industrial relations can be defined as the study of relationships between employers and employees that is governed by a set of rules, procedures and practices for the benefit of either party. UNITARY


According to Burchill in Dzimbiri (2008:02) “Unitary perspective of industrial relations views a work organization as characterized by an integrated and harmonious whole existing for common objectives, values, interests and single centre of loyalty and authority.” It suggests that employees and employers work towards the achievement of the organization’s goals and objectives.

The assumption is that employees are always loyal and trustworthy to the management in order to ensure that organizational common goals are achieved. Armstrong (2006:758) holds the same view and contends that “unitary perspective extols the virtue of teamwork where everyone strives jointly, to a common objective, everyone pulls their weight to the best of their ability and everyone accepts their place and function gladly, following the leadership of the appointed manager or supervisor.”

Conflict is regarded as bad, destructive and counterproductive in unitary perspective and should not be allowed at all costs. Dzimbiri (2008:02) argues further that “conflict is pathological and caused by agitators and troublemakers, misunderstanding or personality clash.” In this case, the managers use their position power in an autocratic manner to deal with any problems. The working relationship is associated with strict adherence to rules, regulations and procedures.

Armstrong (2006:758) points out that “unitary perspective, which is essentially autocratic and authoritarian, has sometimes been expressed in agreements as management right to manage.” In unitary perspective, trade unions are considered as the hindrance to management and not very useful in the running of the organization. Dzimbiri (2008:02) alludes to this view and contends that “trade unions in unitary perspective are either viewed as obstructive and unnecessary to the proper management of the enterprise, or as instruments of communication with workers for the achievement of unity and control.” Management has control and power over the functioning of the trade unions. The trade union is used as a means of communication with the workforce by the management in instances where these trade unions exist.


Dzimbiri (2008:03) suggests that “pluralist perspective is based on the notion that the work place is a microcosm of society replete with diversity in social groups, social interests, values, and beliefs that generate conflict.” Pluralist perspective does not believe in what unitary perspective believes in. Pluralist suggests that the diversity of employees in the work places by nature should be composed of people with variety of ideas, goals and objectives. For example, the goals and objectives of the organization are most likely to be different to that of employees.

In support of Dzimbiri’s views is Fox in Armstrong (2006:758) who contend that “the pluralist view an industrial organization as a plural society, containing many related but separate interests and objectives which must be maintained in some kind of equilibrium.” Fox in Blyton and Turbull (2004:31) argues further that organizations are viewed as a miniature of democratic state composed of sectional groups with divergent interests over which the government tries to maintain some kind of dynamic equilibrium.

The predominant sub-groups in the pluralist perspective are the management representing the organization and trade unions that represents the interests of employees. The pluralist perspective considers that organizations and employees have multiple interests which have to be fulfilled through trust.

The pluralist perspective views conflict as unavoidable in an organization. Dubin in Dzimbiri (2008:03) argues that “industrial conflict is inevitable in modern organizations and that this conflict can be disruptive if left uncontrolled.” In pluralist perspective conflict does not matter but rather how the conflict is handled or resolved so that it does not generate into chaos leading to decline in performance or production.

The focus in pluralist perspective is on the resolution of conflict rather than its generation; Fox in Blyton and Turbull (2004). Pluralist perspective suggests that employment relationship by nature is full of conflicts which are depicted through the organizational structure, for example. Employers and employees do not have the same goals or objectives and it is therefore, a breeding ground for conflict.

The pluralist perspective welcomes the presence of trade unions in organizations. It is suggested that since the organization is represented by management, employees should also be represented by trade unions that represents their interests. Dzimbiri (2008:03) alludes to this fact and point out that “managers in this frame of reference would use various mechanisms for involving workers in decision making on issues affecting their working lives or those aimed at improving the productivity of the organization.”

This is also supported by Cave in Armstrong (2008:759) who contend that “pluralism involves a balance of power between two organized interests and a sufficient degree of trust within the relationship (usually) for each side to respect the other’s legitimate and, on occasions separate interests, and for both sides to refrain from pushing their interest separately to the point where it becomes impossible to keep the show on the road.”

It is however, important to note that trade union relationship with employers can be formal and informal systems in industrial relations as suggested by Gallagher (1984). For example, working rule agreement, company procedures and practice are some of the formal systems between trade union and employers’ relationship in industrial relations.


According to Dzimbiri (2008:03) “Marxist perspective views employer- employee relationships in the wider capitalist society which believes to be exploitative.” This perspective assumes that organizations around us exist in a capitalist. In other ways organizations exists in order to make profit at the expense of employees.

The reason is that organizations are powerful because of the economic resources that they own hence the misunderstanding that lead into conflict between employer and employee. This being the case, an employer is able to survive longer without labour than the employee can survive without work, Blyton and Turbull (2004). Dzimbiri (2008) emphasizes that “Marxist theory of society argues that class (group) conflict is the source of societal change without which society would stagnate.” The implication in the Marxist perspective is that conflict brings change in society.

This perspective allows conflict because it is through this conflict that societal imbalances can cease. Marxist perspective believes that societal imbalances can only cease through a revolution because the employer and employee relationship is exploitative as the employer want to reap more at the expense of employees.


Among the three dominant perspectives, the pluralist perspective provides an adequate explanation of the employment relations in modern work organizations. Industrial relations suggest that the major actors in the employment relationship are employers, employees and the state (Dzimbiri, 2008).

On the other hand, organizations achieve its intended objectives through and with employees (Armstrong, 2006). In the modern work organizations, the pluralist perspective takes centre stage because organizations realize the need to consider both organizational and individual goals. It brings trust between employers and employees in the organization.

Apart from achieving organizational goals, individuals have their own goals to achieve. The more those employees participate in the management of the organization and have the opportunity to fulfill them on the job, the more dedicated will be the work they perform (Sanders, 1992).

This results in the improved interpersonal relationship between management and employees. No wonder, organizations nowadays realize the importance of understanding employees from the pluralist perspective so that they should be able to achieve its intended goals.

Pluralist perspective leads to participative management. In this perspective, employees are involved in decision making processes in organizations. Many organizations in the modern world are interested in ensuring that employees participate in decisions regarding their jobs and employees own these decisions and reduce rate of resistance.

It is suggested that participation can lead to improved efficiency and effectiveness in delivering goods and services to customers, (Cole, 2002). Modern work organizations are moving away from rigid structures to flexible structures where participation becomes a major management issue in trying to improve industrial relations. Pluralist perspective results in confidence of employees in management and of management in employees.

The pluralist perspective provides for diversity and often-conflicting interests among people in society and workplaces, (Dzimbiri, 2008). It is undisputable that by nature an organization is a conflicting environment. Despite that organizational and individual goals vary, the pluralist perspective ensures that these goals are achieved simultaneously. For this to be possible there should be realistic working agreement and arrangements between the two parties.

Organizations design training programmes not only to benefit the organizations themselves in terms of production but also the individual employee in skill acquisition and employability. Many organizations create teams or groups that are empowered to make decisions regarding the tasks they are assigned. These teams or groups usually reach a consensus after debating or arguing on an issue. This is the reality of conflict in many modern work organizations.

Conflict is therefore, accepted and is a major component of the decision making process. Rarely can a decision be made without conflicts either constructive or destructive in a team or group. Turkman in Cole (2002:82) suggests that conflict is an important aspect in the stages of group development. It is therefore, without doubt that the pluralist perspective provides an adequate explanation of the employment relations in modern work organizations.

As for trade unions, the pluralist perspective argues that they are deemed as legitimate representatives of employees. In the modern work organizations, trade unions are almost in every organization. Employees are interested in dealing with groups rather than an individual.

In general, trade unions are accepted in many organizations to represent the interests of their members as Dzimbiri (2008) suggests. The pluralist perspective therefore, provides a forum where employers and employee are willing to work together in order to achieve both individual and organizational goals.


Industrial relation is about the relationship between employers and employees. This relationship is based on three perspectives namely; Unitary, Pluralist and Marxist perspectives. In unitary perspective, the assumption is that employers and employees have no dissenting views.

They all work for the common good. Pluralist perspective believes in diversity of ideas while Marxist perspective believes in revolution because the assumption is that employers exploit employees. However, the pluralist perspective provides an adequate explanation of the employment relationship in the modern work organizations.


  • Armstrong Michael (2006), A Handbook of Human resource Management Practice, 10th Edition
  • Blyton Paul and Turbull Peter (2004), the Dynamic of Employee Relations, 3rd Edition
  • Cole G (2002), Personnel and Human resource Management, 5th Edition
  • Dzimbiri Lewis B. (2008), Industrial Relations in Developing Society, The Case of Colonial, Independent One-party and Multiparty Malawi
  • Gallagher Tom (1984), Industrial Relations on Site, 1st Edition
  • Sanders Robert L. (1994), What They Forgot To Tell You in O.D.Workshop. Record Management Quarterly, Vol. 26, Issue3 Pp1-6

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