Introduction to Industrial Relations

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Assignment Question2

  1. Background3
  2. Introduction 3
  3. Perspectives in Employment Relations 4



Introduction to Industrial Relations

Title: In your view which of the two perspectives (Unitarist or Pluralist) discussed by Alan Fox in his 1966 article (copy on Moodle) most closely fits the world of work of today.


  1. Read the article on perspectives written by Alan Fox, (1966) - Industrial Sociology and Industrial Relations, Donovan Commission Research Paper No. 3, HMSO, London. A copy is available on Moodle.
  2. Compare and contrast the two perspectives (Unitarist and Pluralist). In essence you will be emphasising the strengths (appropriateness) of one perspective and the weaknesses (inappropriateness) of the other perspective.
  3. Your argument should be fully supported by reference to the Fox article, other articles available to you on Moodle, academic publications in the college library or other appropriate academic sources. Academic research must be the basis of your exploration of the topic.
  4. You may draw on personal experience to illustrate your discussion. You should, however, avoid an over-reliance on personal experience as this will weaken rather than strengthen the integrity of your work.
  5. Your Bibliography must include appropriate reference to Fox’s article as well as a number of other academic writers in the industrial relations field.
  1. Background

Industrial Relation is a field of studies that includes a set of phenomena that regulates inside and outside the workplace, which is concerned with determining and controlling the employment relationship. This paper explains the basis of employment relationship and analyse the motivations with the main set of frame of references which will influence behaviour and help managers to shape methods to understand social phenomena. Alan Fox suggest ways in which frame of reference plays an important role on employment relations and organisations, according to (fox. 1966:1) that

Ones attitude towards anything depends on ones frame of reference” (fox. 1966:1)

Implying that it depends on the person’s value, belief and determines judgement which in turn shows the persons motivated behaviour in response to objects when they are professed. More specially, the theory of frame of reference helps to access behaviours outcomes and institutions not just the individual but as a group to separate the employer and employees ideology.

In this essay on the Unitarist and Plurist perspectives there will be three main strands. Firstly, I will evaluate the two perspectives to the extent of what they mean and why they are important, to the point of their strengths and weaknesses. Secondly, I will discuss the key principles by placing them in an employment relationship and workplace to see what implications arise from each perspective such as conflict and see how management power and control each one with the link of ideologies from management and employees that influence the shape of their actions. Finally, I will discuss the possible future direction of the employment relationship with my final conclusion and opinion.

2.0 Introduction

The Unitary perspective which is a capitalist society or viewed as one happy family, emphasis on cooperative relations at work and assumes that the organisation is or should be an integrated group of people or team with a single authority and loyalty structure with a set of common values, interests and objectives shared by all members of the organisation. According to Guinnigle, Wallace, and McMahon they suggest that

“the Unitary perspective on employee relations systems is all that an employment units should be cohesive and harmonious with total commitment to the attainment of a common goal with a structure and purpose with shared goals, values and interests with one source of authority and the staff relations are set upon a plinth of mutuality and harmony” (Guinnigle, Wallace and McMahon, 2004, p. 26).

A key strength of Unitary is that they want to integrate employer and employee interest so it can enhance employee commitment and loyalty. Employees are seen as important stakeholders of organisation so their well being is considered in ensuring the welfare of organisation. Untarist assumes that all stakeholders are rational members who will find common interests. This provides a steady rationale for stressing common goals so that a stable employment relations system can be achieved. Conflict is perceived as disruptive with the clashes of personalities or poor communication and is resolved by coercion which includes the law or management power therefore trade unions are deemed as unnecessary or an intrusion from the outside. According to Salamon, (2000) he implies that

”the managerial prerogative is used so that managers have the right to manage and make decisions is regarded legitimate rule, rational and accepted and any opposition to it is seen as irrational” (Salamon, 2000, pp5).

The typical weakness is that the lack of realization between employer and employee that there is a power inequality which in turns generates conflict plus it is unclear how individual worker sentiment can be integrate into organisations objectives because Unitary is very normative and lacks description of how common interest can be identified and shared across organisation. They only assume that members are rationale enough to reach solid decisions on how personal and organisations interest are to be combined.

The Pluralist views society as being post capitalist where its being made up of powerful and divergent sub groups, ownership is distinguished from management and authority and power in society are more distributed. This approach sees conflict of interest and disagreements between managers and workers which causes competitiveness between sub groups of leadership, authority and loyalty. Fox argues that

“it gives rise to a complex of tensions and competing claims which have to be managed in the interests of maintaining a viable collaborative structure” (fox, 1973, op. cit, p. 193).

The role of management would lean less towards enforcing and controlling and more toward persuasion and co-ordination by dynamic process to achieve their objectives which then employees, individual mangers and management are all judged. Plurist’s believe that effective industrial relations interventions can resolve conflict while it makes use of conflict management to engage groups that are in conflict so that resolutions can be discussed and implemented. The girth of employee relations policies can make Plurism beneficial for diverse organisation and national cultures.

Williams and Adam-smith suggest that “there is now an emphasis on developing procedures that are designed to resolve conflict in particular establishment of bargaining relationships with trade unions, given the plurality of interests that potentially exist”(Williams and Adam-Smith, 2010, pp13).

Trade unions are deemed as legitimate representatives for employees so that they can express their interests and influence management decisions to achieve their objectives. Conflict is dealt by collective bargaining and is viewed not necessarily as a bad thing but if managed could well be in a positive change. Realistic managers should accept conflict to happen because there is a greater propensity for conflict rather than harmony. Salamon suggests that

“Trade unions and their representatives are as much an internal part of the organisation which simply provides a highly organised and continuous form of expression for sectional interests which would exist anyway” (Salamon, 2000, p8).

A typical weakness of Plurist is that it dwells on the rules and procedures and discards the processes that contribute to the resolution of conflict. These rules can not adapt to emerging workplace conditions while Plurist focuses too much on workers interests plus can lead to inefficiencies of collecting bargaining processes.

3.0 Perspectives in Employment Relations

In relation to implying both theory’s into employment relations and how management power and control each perspective is different because each theory comes from a set of norms, it would be wrong to insist a single theory, but to understand each theory which will help differentiate the individual. In a Unitary perspective on employment relations they are obliged to accept trade unions but they never really are prepared to accept them, they tend to accept the decisions of management and submit to the previous management power. Fox suggests in his article (fox.1966:10) that

“Modern workers are perfectly safe in the hands of their managers” (fox.1966:10).

Most managers in a Unitary system would stress about the common purpose of shared goals and objectives with the absence of conflict of interest between employer and employee if asked about their views on employment relations. These beliefs influence their behaviour most importantly management prerogative. For instance with my own experience as I work in the hotel industry that some mangers would show resentment towards trade unions and try to emphasize that we are a happy team. According to (Wallace, Gunnigle, McMahon, 2004, p.27) that

the consequent rejection of collective bargaining is based upon management perceived legitimate prerogative to proceed without the incumbency of negotiations to attain consent to their decision making initiatives and responsibility”(Gunnigle et al., 2004, p.27).

The Unitary system is essentially individualist which works best for industrial relations system, many industrial relations systems have shifted from collectivist paradigms to individual paradigms including some companies in the UK so that the Unitary perspective will be useful for industrial relations system.

In relation to Pluralist to employment relations which recognises employers and employees interests which will be reconciled if the organization is to function effectively. The main concern for Pluralist system is that any conflict that arises from different interests is managed and contained in a way that it prevents it causing too much disruption. Conflict is viewed as inherent as a logical feature of work and requires management by representative’s procedures and specialists institutions. The emphasis is on developing procedures like shop stewards that resolve conflict and collective bargaining from trade unions which is accepted and recognised to protect employees in the employment. According to (Williams, Adam-Smith, 2010, p.13) they suggest that

Managers cannot assume that the organisation is characterized by shared interests and common goals in particular employees will have divergent interests and may want to express them through their own independent institutions, trade union” (Williams and Adam-Smith, 2010, p. 13).

Trade unions compete with employees and the government for a input to national level in return for wage restraint, cooperation with change and industrial peace, if they fail to resolve differences a third party from the union which provides a resolution of contrasting objectives and conflict, which emphasises the diffusion of power and authority to the organisation. Williams and Adam-Smith suggest that

“unions are a means of reasserting managerial authority, stronger bargaining relationship between employers and unions should be encouraged given the advantages of developing effective procedures for contain conflict through joint regulation of the workplace.” (Williams and Adam-Smith, 2010, p.13).

4.0 Conclusions

In my final conclusion suggest that some of these features will help the future of employment relations by staffing policies that should unify effort which will inspire and motivate workers. Rewards systems should be put in place to help loyalty and commitment in the organisation, with the objectives of every individual employed in the business should discuss and integrated in the organization’s needs. In a Pluralist system the firm should have an industrial relations and personal specialists who advise managers and provide services relating to consultation and negotiation. Union recognition should be encouraged and representatives given scope to carry out their duties with collective agreements should be negotiated with union. The effects of both Philosophies of Pluralist and Unitarist in industrial relations they highlight interests rather than values or they try to combine interests and values, which is important to separate both of them, value from interests because there purpose is different in many ways like group dynamics. Unitarists at least emphasize values but for Pluralists its culture and self-identify which are characteristically important for people. The situation does raise some problems for both Unitarists and Pluralists the main problem for Unitarist is that managing values cause contradiction, for Pluralist it changes the whole structure to handling conflict with different rules and trade union recognition as they tend to centre interests rather than values. New structure needs to serve identity groups to allow recognition.


Fox, A., (1966) ‘Industrial Sociology and Industrial Relation’, Donovan Commission Research Paper No. 3, HMSO, London. pp. 1-10.

Fox, A., (1966), Industrial sociology and industrial relations, Research Paper No. 3, Royal commission on Trade Unions and Employers Associations, HMSO , London. pp. 1-10.

Gunnigle, P., Wallace, J., and McMahon, G., (2004) Industrial Relations in Ireland. 3rd ed. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.

Provis, C., (1996) ‘Unitarism, Pluralism, Interests and Values’, British Journal of Industrial Relations 34:4 December 1996 0007-1080 pp. 473-495

Salamon, M., (2000), Industrial Relation: Theory AND Practice. 4th ed. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited.

Williams, S. and Adam-Smith, D., (2010) Contemporary employment relations: A Critical Introduction. 2nd ed. United States: Oxford university press.

Powered by Compare InfoBase Limited (2012) ’Industrial disputes’ [Online]Available from:[accessed 29th July [2014].

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