Industrial relations is a broad term
that describes any relationships between a company, its workers, the government and, in particular, workers who are members
of a union. Dealings between a company’s management and the union as a group, is referred to as labour relations, which
is actually a sub-set of industrial relations. And while it may be sub-set, labour relations represents the major portion
of industrial relations activities. There are some differences as to how these activities are classified; depending upon what
country you are in. In Australia, for example, industrial relations have slowly given
way to being called ‘workplace relations’ which seems a fair description. By any name, it actually describes the
study and practice of trade unionism, labour-management relations and collective bargaining as we view them today. (Wikipedia, 2007).
Industrial relations came into being
during 1912, when then US President Taft was appointed to be the guiding force of an investigative committee called “The
Commission on Industrial Relations.’ The CIR was charged with looking into the reasons for widespread and violent conflicts
between labour and management and then to find solutions that would promote meaningful cooperation between the employees and
their employer. In the beginning of the 1920’s, universities set about to form industrial relations centres with programs
for conducting research into the subject and educating students in employer-employee relations. Larger, well-established businesses
also began to add departments to handle both ‘industrial relations’ and ‘human relations (personnel)’
The next thirty years saw both a sharp
growth in industrialization and organized labour unions with more aggressive methods, which peaked in the 1950s. Union power
began to decline in the late 1960’s as a result of the dramatically- increased actions of government by enacting new
legislation governing civil rights, race, gender, age, discrimination, physical disability and sexual orientation. More recently,
both federal and state governments have passed many new laws regarding pensions, family and medical leaves, the portability
of health insurance coverage and minimum wages, all of which served to cause union declines in the 1980’s and 90’s.
Such changes now affect employer-employee relations in other industrialized nations and are not limited to the United States. (Answers.com “Industrial Relations”
The present trend in managing human
resources and labour relations is to place much stronger emphasis on harmonious relationships between management and employees
by increasing employee involvement in the processes and the mechanisms. The significant pressure brought about by globalization
and heavy competition has demanded that firms be more flexible through the addition of new technology and a wider range of
skills within their employee structure. This permits companies to adapt more readily to changes in their markets. Process
and product innovation is also improved. Union influences are still present, but organizational ability and trust between
management and labour reigns supreme in industrial relations. (International Labour Organisation, UK, 1998).
Earlier assumptions that business efficiency
was achieved primarily from managerial control, technology and allocation of resources has now been replaced by the belief
that true efficiency results from greater employee involvement in their assigned tasks, teamwork and enterprise. These ‘changes’
in the way companies deal with people in an enterprise are happening because modern industrial relations has had to embrace
social sciences that include organizational psychology and behaviour. It seems safe to conclude that industrial relations
will continue to evolve as globalization and new technologies expand.
Wikipedia, 2007 “Industrial Relations”
Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Relations
Answers.com, “Industrial Relations”
Available from: http://www.answers.com/topic/ industrialrelations?/cat=biz-fin
DeSilva, S.R. (1998) International
Labour Organisation ACT/EMP Publications, “Elements of a Sound Industrial Relations System”. (on-line).
Available from: http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialogue/ actemp/papers/1998/srs..