Employment relation refers to the relationship between an employee and an employer, for whom the employee works under stated conditions, in return for remuneration. The term came into place to replace industrial relations. The meaning of the term employment relations needs some clarification for the sake of better understanding. According to statistics in the UK, industrial relations have declined drastically. Union membership has fallen from 12million to 7million in contemporary times.
Collective agreement coverage of the employees has fallen from three quarters to a third, because there are fewer issues to bargain over in the work place. Union leaders focus much on giving support to the employees’ grievances than negotiating on working conditions and payment issues. Collective bargaining, which previously received a whopping embrace, receives less concern; thus, it is fading drastically.
The industrial and employment relations functions have similarities and differences, which come from their structure and management. However, management is the core mover other than the known change in the economy, and the climate to the declined unions. The human resource management also has a close relation to employment relations. This paper seeks to find out how the three functions relate, as well as, the significance of management, industrial relations, and human resources to the employment relationship.
Industrial relations bear a significant problem of the present industrial society setting. This directly connects to the industrial revolution. In the pre-industrial revolution period, the economy was made of straightforward processes in the manufacturing sector, local markets, low employment levels, and small-scale investment (Salamon 2000, p. 125).
This focused at reaching a healthy relationship between the employer and the employee. The rising of the industrial revolution challenged this situation with expanding businesses, which needed more human resources and more financial investments. New set of qualified managers came in place causing separation between ownership and management (Fitzwater 1999, p. 314).
This, as a result, strained the employer and employee relationships. This outdid the previous philosophy of industrial relations and resulted to more complex and impersonal relations. Today, the industry has evolved to management relations, which do not consider the industry as a sole venture of the employers, but both employees and the employer contribute towards the ultimate success of the industry.
The major drawback of industrial relations was that it was restrictive. It focused on certain parts of the economy specifically the manufacturing industry. This brought a contrast between industry and services. It paid its attention to given parts of the economy, which adds up to biasness. In addition, it focused on the public sector and ignored the private sector’s small and large firms.
Therefore, this led to the emergence of employment relations, which focused on employment where the employee worked under the employer with wages and remunerations paid to him or her in return. Industrial relations closed out self-employed professionals, as well as, those working in domestic settings (Hyman 1975, p. 232). This meant that, between a customer and a shoemaker for instance, there was no industrial relation; however, such relations existed between a shoemaking firm and its employees.
Industrial relations and human resources
Since 1980, the term human resource management emerged powerfully to substitute, in a better way, the function of unions. Some people argue that, human resource is a function within industrial relations, while others support the reverse argument. With industrial relations, all employees’ grievances were handled at the union level, and negotiations took place between the employees and employer. It advocates for collective bargaining and tough negotiations (Ackers & Wilkinson 2003, p. 256).
In the past years, these two aspects of industrial relation encouraged more strikes, demonstrations, and protests, which in result, caused destruction of property and thus, poor working conditions. In human resource management, such strikes and demonstration are unhealthy ways of passing grievances; they depict poor management of staff by the human resource management. A competent human resource management should handle workers’ grievances professionally, which minimizes or curbs strikes and demonstrations.
In addition, human resource management has paid attention to the recruitment issues, as well as, human resources training. Before 1980, industrial relations had taken another dimension where a firm had an industrial relations manager, who was usually a man, in charge of trade unions and collective bargaining (Budd 2004, p. 323).
Firms also had a welfare officer, who was usually a woman, in charge of the canteen, health, safety, and pension issues. However, the emergence of human resource management suppressed industrial relations with less collective bargaining and decline in organized industrial conflicts. The human resource management function sought to manage labour, which in turn included the industrial relations field.
It much focused on the individual, rather than groups. Today, industrial relations, as a function, remain active and operational in remarkably few organizations. In the academic field, it is in crisis after the organizational behaviour and the economic approaches dominated the traditional approach. In the policy making arena, laissez faire from a neoliberal view has taken over the institutional view.
Aspects of industrial relations
Industrial relations include three aspects, viz. management, workers, and trade unions. To achieve a healthy relationship between labour and the management, well-defined boundaries should exist between the employer and the employee (Gennard & Judge 2005, p. 158). Both should have the freedom to act within the defined boundaries.
In addition, a monitoring system should be in place to monitor the developments and advancements accruing from the relationship. Moreover, the management should also treat the employees with respect as a way of achieving harmony. Finally, the employees should be involved in decision making as well to avoid some of the unnecessary grievances.
In order to achieve improved and sincere relationships between the management and trade unions, managers should have the right attitude towards the employees and vice versa. There should be an upstanding rapport between the two.
Moreover, democracy and respect of the public opinions should prevail, for it is possible to have labour laws, but if the management and the trade union use the wrong approaches, harmony may never exist. Therefore, it is vital for the management and the trade unions to have and use the right approaches.
Workers and management should also behave as two separate segments; however, they should work in fairness and the right attitude towards the realization of harmony. They should all understand that they are working for the benefit of the organization as well for their own benefit. The industrial relations require truth, love, justice, and liberty for its success. This shows how industrial relations can be demanding and tough to achieve.
In industrial relations, trade unions have the responsibility of maintaining order and soft industrial relations within organizations. The union protects the interests and handles grievances of the workers through a collective bargaining. At the same time, it ensures that the organization is secure and free from strikes, which result from unsettled grievances or unmet interests (Gennard & Judge 2005, p. 162).
Therefore, trade unions should keep a balance between the two, which over time, has proved to be a tricky balancing act because industrial go slows happen even in the modern times. However, industrial relations should understand that human resources, simply put, means living human beings.
They are people who will desire some freedom ranging from speech and expression to movement. In industrial relations, employers may be tempted to treat employees as objects, which as a result, lead to the workers reacting to the pressure through protests and demonstrations. This depicts industrial relations as an insufficient way of relating and solving employees-employer conflicts.
One of the significant changes that took effect with the initiation of employment relations was the abolition of trade unions, in the private sector. This took off in the late 1980s and increasingly grew in many industries. By 1990, the lack of recognition had already dominated in many countries and industries.
However, in the late 1990s, the recognition of trade unions began to show up. Employed personnel (human resource managers) handled employees’ grievances internally and worked towards winning the commitment of the employees and training them to avoid conflicts within the working place.
Whereas the industrial relation focused on having trade unions to solve conflicts, the employment relations focused on using skilled people to build relationships by engaging all the employees. The focus shifted from trade unions to direct and effective communication, managing change in the organization, involving the staff in decision making, motivation, and training of employees. The basic concern, in this scenario, was to ensure that employees work under favourable environments where they could feel motivated to perform.
Management is a significant factor in employment relations, and it has increased the desire to understand its role based on its management style. This explains why there should be well described guidelines, which govern the conduct of the employer and the employee (Pettinger 1999, p. 253).
There are two approaches, which explain this concept, viz. the pluralist approach and the unitary approach. The unitary approach holds that, both the employee and the employer have common goals, while the pluralist approach reasons that, employers and employees have different interests; therefore, unions are essential to articulate such differences. Though many organizations tend to adhere to the unitary approach, some organizations have followed the pluralist approach and, therefore, have embraced unions.
Scope of employment relations
With industrial relations focusing more on employment relationships from a legal point of view, the term employment relations is now used considerably by business firms, and it includes more factors, but emphasizes more on the motivation factor and training (Farnham 2000, p. 256).
This phenomenon stands due to the existence of human resource management, which shows that the focus has widened. In 1970, the union’s membership was at 50%, dropped up to 20% as at 2007, and is still dropping in contemporary times. This has come because of influence of economy on change in the nature of jobs.
Employment relations are a legal aspect, which constitutes the operations of the labour market all over the world. It is the basic working standard in the majority of countries, which has arguably predominated causing more stability in employment relationships. The situation, however, is not the same in each country. In countries where the employed forms a remarkably small percentage and the self employed make the bigger percentage, the situation tends to change.
The employment relations depend on facts and not names given by the involved parties (Leat 2007, p. 129). They depend on the agreement made between the two parties based on certain objective conditions. In the employer-employee relationship, the relation depends on what both have agreed under different conditions. There are several factors in place, in many countries, which determine the presence of employment relations.
Human resource management and employment relations
Since 1980, human resource management has regularly replaced personnel management, while human resource has replaced personnel manager.
Management relations can connect the rise of the human resource management function to the change in focus, from exercising maximum control over the employees and allowing for potential conflicts in the employment relations, to capturing their commitment and cooperation to the organization. Employment relations also embarked on aligning the employees with the ultimate goal of the organization.
A proper balance actualized between the employees and the institutional goals. It seeks to inform employees that, the well-being of the organization translates into the well-being of the workers and thus, employees should function optimally to the success of the organization because that success goes back to the employees. The employment relations hold that human resources should enhance the business performance by way of its management.
On the other hand, the industrial relations hold that, the management has control over the employees in a bid to accommodate the power of the trade unions (Budd 2004, p. 303). The employment relations believe that, businesses can perform better by involving employees, which increases their commitment. It is true that, a committed employee is a satisfied, productive and adaptable employee.
The employment relation is the best approach to manage employer- employee relations. This assertion holds because the approach is free of pressure from management to employees, and expression of tension from employees to management is accommodated.
In addition, pressure from trade unions to the management is also inapplicable to the unitary approach to employment relations. An organization using the industrial relations system needs to embrace the employment approach, since it proves more advantageous and less costly. The most critical relationship in a business setting is that of the customer and the business.
The employees are the internal customers, and their satisfaction is as well critical. Using employment relations system would mean commitment by the employees to give the best performance. The difference between the industrial relations and the employment relations occur in the aspect of management and conflict solving process. Through the emergence of the human resource management function, the employment relations have become better.
The management aspect is the core mover of the industrial and employment relations. Many managers would undoubtedly enjoy working in an environment where they can invent rather than react to an existing trade union. There is an even balance between the employees and organizations’ interests. The management relationship style eliminates cases of conflict of interest, although not completely, but in a better way compared to industrial relationships.
Ackers, P., & Wilkinson, A., 2003. Understanding Work and Employment: Industrial Relations in Transition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Budd, J. W., 2004. Employment with a Human Face: Balancing Efficiency, Equity, and Voice. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Farnham, D., 2000. Employee Relations in Context. London: CIPD Publishing.
Fitzwater, T., 1999. The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Employee Relations. Amherst: HRD Press
Gennard, J., & Judge G., 2005. Employee Relations. London: CIPD Publishing.
Hyman, R., 1975. Industrial Relations: A Marxist Introduction. Oxford: Macmillan.
Leat, M., 2007. Exploring Employee Relations. Butterworth: Heinemann Publishers.
Pettinger, R., 1999. Effective Employee Relations: A Guide to Policy and Practice In The Workplace London: Kogan Page Publishers.
Salamon, M., 2000. Industrial Relations: Theory and Practice. New York: Prentice Hall.