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The employment relationship refers to a fundamental antagonism between an employer and employee. Therefore, the intrinsic characteristic of employment relationship is conflict (Blyton and Turnbull, 2004). Actually, conflict is inevitable at work. The key lies with how to manage conflict so that it can develop positive effects. However, there are different views against conflict in the theoretical circle. Generally speaking, there are three major theoretical perspectives such as Unitarist, Pluralist and Marxist perspective to view employee relations. In this essay, it will firstly introduce those three perspectives and then critically discusses the differences in the view of conflict among them on employee relations. Secondly, it will describe the development of employee relations in the UK before elaborating appropriate perspective for the analysis of employee relations in the UK. It considers that Pluralist perspective is the most suitable perspective rather than other two perspectives for analyzing the British employee relations. At last, it will make a conclusion in a few words.
Theoretical perspectives on employee relations
Unitarist, Pluralist and Marxist perspective have been described for understanding and analyzing employee relations. Each of them provides a different interpretation towards workplace conflict, the role of unions and job regulation (Edwards, 2003). In other words, those three perspectives hold different views against conflict in the employee relations. The following paragraphs will introduce three perspectives one by one. After that, it will summarize the differences among them.
Seeing from the Unitarist perspective, the organization is regarded as an integrated and harmonious group of people with one loyalty culture. Specified explanations are as follows. Such an organization attaches much importance to mutual cooperation. Moreover, all employees within the organization share a mutual purpose. In addition, this perspective similar to paternalism has a high requirement for the loyalty of all employees. The management of such an organization is outstanding due to its emphasis and application. For this reason, it has been concluded that trade unions are not necessary for the mutual exclusiveness of the loyalty between organizations and employees. However, the conflict on employee relations is considered pathological and disruptive outcome caused by interpersonal friction, communication breakdown, as well as agitators (Kaufman, 2004).
From the perspective of Pluralist, organization is made up of various sectional groups. Each group has its legal loyalties, goals and leaders. Particularly, management and trade unions are two remarkable sectional groups in the Pluralist perspective. As a result, the main job responsibility of management is not enforcement and control but persuasion and coordination. However, trade unions are acted as lawful delegates of employees. The conflict is inevitable here and the conflict in the Pluralistic perspective is solved by collective bargaining. Generally speaking, conflict is always associated with bad things. However, conflict if being managed well can also take place evolution and positive change from the perspective of Pluralism (Kaufman, 2004).
Marxist perspective is also called radical perspective. This perspective is to reveal the nature of the capitalist society. It thinks that workplace relations are against the history. It recognizes inequalities in power in the employment relationship and in wider society as a whole. Consequently, conflict is perceived as an inevitable result. Whatâ€™s more, a natural response regarding workers against the capitalism exploitation is seen as trade unions. The managementâ€™s position would be improved by institutions of joint regulation from the view of Marxism if having the periods of acquiescence, because they suppose rather than challenge the proceeding of capitalism (Hyman, 1975).
Differences among three perspectives
According to the descriptions toward three perspectives, it is obviously that they have different understandings against conflict. The Unitarist view perceives conflict as a word with derogatory sense and it puts forward three reasons of generating conflict such as agitators, interpersonal friction and communication breakdown. It employs a paternalistic approach, so it is short of the conflict between capital and labor which is the focus of Marxist perspective. Moreover, it does not refer to the solution. On the contrary, the Pluralist view indicates that collective bargaining is the way of tackling conflict. Another difference lies in that sometimes conflict can be positive. It implies the importance of conflict management. It can be seen that the Pluralist view pays much attention to conflict resolution and how to how to manage conflict. Moreover, it considers that the power between parties with different interests is equal, which is just opposite to the Marxist perspective. Actually, the Marxist view is very radical. From its point of view, the inevitability of conflict comes from the inequalities of powers caused by capitalism exploitation. That is to say, different from Unitarist perspective, the Marxist perspective gives different reasons of bringing about conflict.
Appropriate perspective for analyzing employee relations in the UK
In this part, it will firstly describe the development process of employee relations in the UK. Afterwards, it will prove that three perspectives can be applied to analyze the British employee relations but the Pluralist perspective is the most appropriate view for analyzing British employee relations.
According to the definition of collective bargaining by International Labor Organization, one party of collective bargaining is one employer, some employers or one or several employer organizations while the other party is one or several worker organization (Herman, 1998). It is obviously that the collective bargaining is not feasible without the union of workers. In Medieval England, the relationship between employers and employees was equal but not class relations. As usual, most of competent employees would live in a separate house or married the daughter of employers. The sprout of the capitalist way of production provided possibility for the emergence of industrial relations. The distinction of manufacturing rights and power of management, the division of employers and employees, as well as the existence of a great many permanent labors provided soil for the generation of the trade union. At the early stage of capitalism, there was not law or system to guarantee the basic life of employees. In order to make a living, workers must negotiate with employers. Although a lot of inequalities existed between them, workers did not have enough countervailing power through individual negotiation or signing contract with each worker. In order to improve life and working conditions, labors gradually united and struggled with employers. At the end of 1600s, trade union emerged as the times require. Because the industrial workers did not form strong hierarchy, the primary labor movement was only limited to the range of manual workers. One of important role of the early trade union on behalf of workers was to negotiate with employers for salary, employment conditions and so on. At the end of 1700s, the collective agreement between employment labor organizations and employers came to the UK, which is the earliest collective agreement in the world (Fraser, 1999).
The UK as the source origin of Industrial Revolution is also a country developing trade union movement earliest in the world (Williams and Smith, 2006). Therefore, the British labor relations system is with distinctive characteristics. In the development history of British Labor Laws, collective bargaining is regarded as an effective way to resolve labor disputes. Before the Second World War, the collective bargaining in the UK was mainly a national negotiation. The national collective agreement covered most of workers. Until 1970s, some local collective bargaining emerged. More and more employers started to withdraw from national collective bargaining. Corporate-level collective bargaining gradually occupied dominant position replacing national collective bargaining (Gospel, 1998). Moreover, the government also supported decentralized collective bargaining and the regulatory institutions such as wages council were abolished. In addition, the British law fully protected the interests of members of trade union and stated a variety of immunities against trade unions so that they would not be charged owing to strikes or other industrial actions. However, collective bargaining has begun to suffer multifarious criticisms since 1980s. Someone criticized that the collective bargaining was too disruptive, because the breakdown of collective bargaining brought about too frequently industrial actions so as to weaken domestic economic competitiveness. As a result, the coverage of collective bargaining gets smaller and smaller. According to the statistics, the coverage has already decreased from 70% in 1984 to 41% in1998 (Addison and Siebert, 2002). In any way, collective bargaining was the basis of the British employee relations for much of the 20th century.
Based on the introduction of employee relations in the UK, it can be seen that the British collectivism has already went through the development process from sprout to be legal. In Medieval England, the relationship between employers and employees can be explained with the paternalistic approach. Employers and employees were loyal with the ideal of â€œa happy familyâ€Â and did not need the trade union to solve conflicts, which is the emphasis of the Unitarist perspective. Consequently, the inequalities existed between employers and employees at the beginning stage of capitalism. Employees were exploited by employers, but they had not enough strong power to solve them. For this reason, the inequalities in power in employment relationship can be analyzed by the Marxist view. After that period of time, the trade union came into being and was firstly responsible for negotiating with employers regarding the issues of wage and employment condition. Afterwards, the collective agreement emerged in the UK with the improvement of trade union. Moreover, the diversification of employees created conditions for the expansion of trade unions and members. As a result, the form of collective bargaining was more common and was regarded as an effective solution to conflict in labor disputes, which is identical with the view of the Pluralist perspective. Employers gradually found the disadvantages of collective bargaining and less took part in the collective bargaining. As a matter of fact, the decline of collective bargaining can also attribute to the shortcomings of the Pluralist perspective which focused too much on the solution to conflict and the accommodation to change and power differences. In other words, it neglects the government influences and power differences at all employee relations levels. As a whole, the deficiencies of collective bargaining lead to its declination in the British employee relations, but its role can not be substituted for any other kind of conflict resolution. It can be concluded that the Pluralist perspective has greatly influenced the employee relations in the UK and will continue to develop its effects, which is natural to be the most appropriate perspective for analyzing the British employee relations compared with other two perspectives.
To sum up, different people have different minds. The Unitarism, Pluralism and Marxism have already expressed their views against the conflict on employee relations. However, there are some differences in their views. Three perspectives are from different angles and have different emphases. After discussing the differences among three perspectives, it has elaborated my own opinion that the Pluralist perspective is the most appropriate for the analysis of employee relations in the UK based on the development process of the British employee relations. It can be concluded from the analyses that collective bargaining with irreplaceable role is playing a less and less important role in the British employee relations with the various changes in employment and the labor force. In addition, conflict management is extremely significant for the sustainable development of organizations. People should not only focus on the conflict resolution but also pay attention to the influences of other factors. As a result, it is very crucial and indispensable for every organization to establish positive employee relation so as to attract and retain high-quality staff, to improve employee productivity, to increase employee loyalty, to enhance working morale, to elevate business performance, as well as to reduce absence rate (Lewis and Saunders, 2003).