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Industrial Relations emerged in the wake of the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. Tradesmen’s guilds, which pre-dated the Industrial Revolution, evolved into the forerunners of modern unions under the influence of industrialisation as labour was forced to organise to better represent workers’ interests. According to Teicher (2004) the study of Industrial Relations was a by product of the rise and fall of the trade unions and collective bargaining in the 20th century.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics (2003) defines industrial relations as the “interaction between employers, employees, and the government; and the institutions and associations through which such interactions are mediated.” The objectives of Industrial Relations include; maintaining formal equality in the organization based on the participation of labour in the management and the decision making process, raising productivity by reducing tendency of high labour turnover and absenteeism and establishing a proper channel of communication and safeguarding the interests of the employee & the employer.
Aside from the employee-employer relationship, industrial relationship is also about political power. Isaac and Lansbury (2003) have argued that in recent years, the traditional dominance of law and economics has played a major role in industrial relations. Diversity, rather than uniformity characterizes the industrial relation experiences of nations.
In a perfect world it would be great if both the employee and employer where satisfied with the whole state of affairs. Unfortunately in most instances that usually is not the case. For the most part people understand that everyone is unique, and finding an employer or employee that is perfect is probably almost never attainable. The good news is even in today’s work climate there are still working relationships that thrive. Those arrangements take place when each party fulfils there obligations to each other, and shows a mutual respect and admiration for each other’s efforts.
Employers and employees need to have some system for communicating their views and requirements to each other. Vogl (2004) highlights the two main stages that employee-employer relations takes place:
Individual relationships – An individual relationship is with their employer and relates to their contract of employment and conditions of work. Sometimes an individual employee may have a dispute with their employer leading to a tribunal case.
Collective relationships – Collective relationships usually involve a group of employees, trade unions and an individual employer or group of employers.
In the modern era, industrial relations mainly focus on the relationship between employees’ personal goals and ambitions to those of the industry. Companies do not tend to implement some excellent ideas received from employees due to the changing management structures and the absence of trust. Therefore employees keep their ideas to themselves for the fear that they will not receive any recognition.
Working relationships may break down when expectations on either side are not met. “Youth Central”, the Victorian Government’s web-based initiative for young people has described five major issues which could result in an unhealthy employee-employer relationship. These issues include;
Workplace violence – Which includes physical assault, verbal threats, threatening behaviour, racial and sexual harassment.
Discrimination at work – Which occurs when an employee is treated unfairly because of who he/she is or for what he/she stands for.
Bullying & violence at work – Takes place when an employee is criticized, insulted, threatened, assaulted, overloaded with work etc.
Safety in the workplace – This could be threatened when employers breach their duty of care towards the employees’ safety at the workplace.
Workplace stress – Is caused due to high demand at work and the employee’s lack control over them.
Other than these problems employees tend to have doubts about their workplace when;
1) They are misunderstood
2) Their career is not developing as they’d hoped
3) Their salary is not as high as it should be.
And employers begin to question the value of their employees when they feel that;
1) The employees’ work is not up to standard
2) The employees’ productivity levels are unsatisfactory
3) The employees’ focus is elsewhere
Fair Work Ombudsman, Australia, states that when it comes to solving disputes at the work place, it is important to take time to talk them over and understand what the concerns are because it is in everyone’s interest to have a healthy and cooperative working relationship.
For an organization to survive the competitive market, it is essential to maintain healthy working relationships. In the 20th century many governments stepped into action by introducing rules and regulations to manage successful industrial relationships.
Since the 1990s, significant changes have been introduced to Australia’s workplace relations laws. Current legislative reform seeks to provide greater flexibility and choice for employers and employees at the workplace level. The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations states that the current workplace relations system is designed to balance the needs of the employees, unions and employers which will eventually allow the workplace to become more productive.
In a fast paced working environment, it is essential for the employers to identify that employee welfare affects the “bottom line” of the business. The data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that an average Australian spends around 50 hours a week at work. Managing Work/Life Balance International’s national benchmarking survey had found that working longer decreases productivity and increases stress-related absenteeism.
At present, employers are becoming increasingly aware of the cost implications associated with over-worked employees. It is quite clear that organisational restructuring which contribute towards worker insecurity has been the backbone of this issue. Many policies related to work life balance have been implemented by the government to overcome these issues. Flexible work options have been introduced in order to increase productivity and to improve industrial relations.
The role of the woman in the workforce has played a major role in the study of industrial relations. During the global financial crisis, it was evident that women had the natural ability to take control of the organisations and to lead them towards success. Surprisingly, O’Brian et al. (2008) shows us that at in 2007, males have displayed lower unemployment figures than females compared to the last two decades, although female labour force has grown over time. Hewlett and Rashid (2010) believe that they have found the main cause of this issue. ‘The Battle for Female Talent in the Emerging Market’ which was published in the ‘Harvard Business Review’ states that female talent is underleveraged mostly due to the conflict between family related pulls and work related pushes.
The introduction of ‘National Employment Standards’ in 2010 has offered Australian women with flexible work arrangements to overcome these difficulties. The agency for ‘Equal Employment for Women in the Workplace’ highlights the fact that the working woman in the future will be a part of the informal networks of decision makers of the business. This will eventually allow women to access the most suitable career opportunities that will keep them in the main game.
Smart employers tend to include both men and women in the decision making process of the organisation. But the best employers do not focus only on gender diversity because they understand the importance of age, cultural and ethnic differences when competing in a global market. According to Stevens et al. (2008) many organisations are beginning to follow ‘multicultural’ and ‘colour-blind’ approaches to increase workplace diversity because it lays the basic foundation to gain competitive advantage in the global market through generating feelings of inclusion of both minority and nonminority groups, strengthening the industrial relationship of the organisation.
A healthy industrial relationship is the key to a successful organisation. It is evident that the efficiency of an industry is based on the quality which has been built up amongst the individuals who work together to achieve the organizational goals. The research that had been outlined in this essay shows that industrial relations are mainly based on trust, equality, recognition and fairness. As we face globalisation, we must realise that change is inevitable and it is the way we respond to the change which matters. Successful industrial relationships will guide the organisations to face these changes and to overcome the challenges in order to survive the competitive market.
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