Adversarial industrial relations

in your interestIn the present global environment, there is promotion of a shift from the practice of adversarial industrial relations, to one which promotes consultation, dialogue and collaboration. This is ideal for it removes much of the tension and fall-out usually associated with the employment relationship and the engagement of the collective bargaining mechanism.

It is well known that the outcomes of adversarial industrial relations have been several forms of protest actions, which include strikes and national shut downs. In some countries, there have been some drastic repercussions, with the end result being violent protests.

In the post-Independence era in the Caribbean, evidence points to the fact that the adversarial industrial relations approach was a feature for some time. It is quite possible that this grew out of the struggles of the 1930’s where there was resentment of the actions of the colonial authorities.

To the region’s credit and specifically as it relates to Barbados, violent protest actions have not raised their ugly head. In reflection, it can be argued that the adversarial industrial relations approach was a necessary evil of the time, but it has now outlived its usefulness.

It seemingly serves no useful purpose to have an approach that perpetuates confrontation between employer and employee. It is an ominous threat to maintaining industrial harmony.

It has to be acknowledged that the adversarial approach basically allows both management and trade union the latitude to adopt tactics in order to gain the upper hand over conflicts that arise. It has to be maintained that it fuels the escalation of often unnecessary conflict.

Although the adversarial approach tends to create a divide, its use may be justified from the standpoint that aggression is sometimes necessary in order to force a response from an employer who is not open to reason, and not accommodating in listening to and seeking to find common ground in bringing a resolution to a matter(s).

It is this stubbornness and the propensity not to listen and reason, that contribute to unions having to resort to taking strike action and refusing to work until their demands are fulfilled by management. The situation may warrant that there is a refusal to work under certain conditions or arrangements which prevent other employees from working, induce others to boycott products or services, and resort to picketing as a means to hinder other employees, customers and other people from entering the work premises.

Where the adversarial industrial relations practice is engaged, it can be a trigger for reduced productivity which can emanate from protest actions or from the lack of good workplace relations. As has been established, this comes as a consequence of growing hostility between the employee, their representative body and the employer.

Productivity should be seen as a perennial concern for employers and trade unions. If this is to be achieved, it would make good sense to ensure that there is an effective channel of communication which exists between the employer, the employees and their representative trade union.

The avoidance of adversarial industrial relations can be achieved if there is an understanding and commitment on the part of employers to an open door policy, so as to allow for talks with union officials whenever they bring up matters of concern to their members. The maintaining of a channel of communication that can facilitate the making of informed decisions will go a long way in eliminating the possibility of unwarranted hostility.

The souring of the industrial relations relationship can also be suppressed where there is adherence by employers to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. There ought to be an appreciation of the fact that any form of bad faith bargaining, discriminatory and manipulative practices will create an atmosphere of hostility.

It is to the credit of Barbados that it has entered into a social compact that embraces and promotes the maintenance of industrial harmony that is dependent on the exercise of mutual respect for, and protection of the rights and entitlements of both employers and workers.

The chances of achieving industrial harmony will certainly be remote, if the practice of adversarial industrial relations is given preference over dialogue and consultation.

(Dennis DePeiza is a labour management consultant with Regional Management Services Inc. Visit our Website: www.regionalmanagement Send comments to: rmsinc

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