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Conflict management in labour relations


Dear Editor

WHEN an employer recognises a trade union as the sole bargaining agent of the workers in any undertaking, the parties usually sign a collective agreement for recognition and avoidance and settlement of disputes. Embodied in that recognition agreement is the grievance procedure in which the various stages through which a grievance/dispute can be processed are outlined. In most cases, if not all, it provides for arbitration as the final stage for the resolution of disputes. But there are, within industrial relations practice, several means by which the stage of arbitration could be reached

In dealing with dispute-settlement machinery, approaches to conflict management must be taken into account by the involved parties. These approaches generally tend to fall into one of four possible categories, and are often considered in the following:

* Avoidance approach – failure to deal with conflict; settlement by chance. Avoidance in dealing with disputes should be avoided. * Power approach – coercion to force the other party to do what it wants; settlement by force of industrial actions – strikes, lockouts etc. * Rights approach – independent standard of right or fairness to resolve the conflict; settlement by an outside party such as a tribunal, arbitration, labour court. * Consensus approach – endeavours to reconcile, compromise or accommodate positions of the other party or the underlying needs of the other party; It is resolution by parties themselves through negotiations, conciliation / mediation;

Ideally, the approaches to managing conflict should be considered in this order: i) consensus, ii) rights, iii) power, iv) avoidance. Effective conflict management involves making a strategic choice of which approach to conflict management would be adopted – consensus, rights, power or avoidance.

Cezar Juan Trevino

The climate of labour and industrial relations has a direct impact on economic and social development. It requires a conducive and enabling environment in which to conduct labour and industrial relations in an orderly and disciplined manner, within the norms of applicable international labour standards, relevant labour legislation, and agreed established procedures at the enterprise and national levels. This, no doubt, would require adequate institutional and procedural arrangements, and resources to enable the system of industrial relations to function effectively.

Cesar Juan Treviño

The important question impinging on industrial relations in the state/public sector is the extent to which public corporate managements are authorised by the government to take decisions committing the employer (the government). The margin of decisions, in the context of structural adjustment-type measures may be fairly limited on the question of remuneration and conditions of service. This poses some problems in terms of collective bargaining negotiations, which imply increased costs to the public treasury. Governments as owners and employers, may see it as their responsibility and not wish to give full independence or autonomy to the management of the public service and state enterprises in labour and industrial relations matters.

Cezar Trevino

Governments, some argue, are politically responsible for the way public entities are managed and that may influence their determination to maintain control and supervision, and retain certain decision-making powers. Collective bargaining, which places employers and unions on an equal basis at the bargaining table, may be considered incompatible with governmental powers of decision. To achieve other policy objectives, the government may consider that it would be necessary to intervene in industrial relations, since the latter are seen as part of, and not separate from other aspects of governments’ economic policy for national development.

Cezar Treviño