The Employment Relationship And The Nature of Strike Activity
The past two decades of industrial relations has seen a large transformation in the working relationship between; workers, employers, unions and the governments.
The escalation from a highly industrialized to an information based society, international globalization and the restructuring of organizations, enforced changes to economies and impacted on the way employment relations are practiced throughout and the world.
Employee relations have been increasingly become more important and a variety of ‘new’ techniques are used to improve the way it is practiced. Whether it has made a large difference is hard to tell in my eyes, it has been mentioned that strike activity has gone ‘out of fashion’ – so why do I think it is important to make sure New To HR professionals understand the actual implications of this?
Strike action has been an activity which has had the largest impact on both the organization and state. It is seen as a means of creating disorder within an organization, yet it causes disruption to many other parties – if you think for example about airport strikes. But there is another side, as the underlying principle of strike activity is to enforce a demand, like for example higher pay or extra facilities on a site. But it may also be directed towards a political subject.
Industrial action is usually the last resort after all other avenues have been exhausted!
The Nature Of Strike Activity
Strike activity has been in decline since the 1908’s – a strike is defined by Griffin as
A temporary stoppage of work by a group of employees in order to express a grievance or enforce a demand.
Methods of reducing strike activity have changed the nature in which legislation has been written and it is one of the most significant factors; but collective bargaining, arbitration and ballots are still all used. (for more in-depth info on what the latter means…)
Before 2008/2009 there was a high level of expansion in the economy and employment, this created a major power base for employees. Employers did not have much choice in ‘giving in’ on employee demands – as the threat of industrial action was seen predominantly as a cost push factor.
The changing structure of the workforce in this economy has added to the change in the employment relationship. Work has become very fragmented and employers need more flexible workers, job insecurity is at an all time high pushing to and encouraging a highly individualistic labour force, without the same 1990’s values and beliefs.
Therefore this is making industrial action (in an individualistic way) very difficult as people do not have the same core values. (think of the many freelancers and women that have come into the workforce) Individual bargaining is a ‘new’ way of by-passing unions and mediating with the employer directly.
Employers are now more aware about what employee relations entails. (this does not however mean that it is always applied!!) Things like training and development have strengthened the bargaining power of employees, by creating commitment and motivation effectively trying to improve employee relations.
In my eyes (especially in some of the emerging markets) – the power of the employer will always be stronger than that of an individual employee and in the end what will count more – union membership (back-up) or fighting a ‘war’ on your own?
I believe that individual conflict (employee-employer) is trend and will be so in the future, as employees realize that being ‘alone’ does not frighten employers – there may be a slight increase in strike activity?
There is still a long way to go to improve the employee relationship, but it is heading in the right direction… Organisations are very much focused on creating loyalty, commitment, motivating – yet are many taking a pro-active approach and acknowledging the need for good employee relations?
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