HR practices & union management relationship.

AuthorDhal, Manoranjan
PositionHuman resource


Union management relationship which is primarily based on the powerbase of union leaders and managers is challenged by the innovative human resource (HR) practices by the management. Though both the union leaders and the management collaborate to run the business; they compete to win the commitment of the workers. However, for the functioning of the organization both the management and union must take the initiative to maintain an amiable relationship. But, workers have a different motive than the union leaders and they are even ready to join hands with the management by going away from the union. Against this backdrop, this paper tries to explore the attitude of workers, managers and trade union leaders towards the HR practices and the union management relationship. The paper also tries to study the impact of HR practices on the union management relationship. This study is based on the responses from 640 respondents from seven manufacturing organizations in Odisha belonging to both private and public sectors. It also explores the difference in perception across sectors.

Workers, Managers & Union Leaders

The industrial relations system has passed through the age of conflicting relations and is heading towards an era of cooperation. Trade unions are not able to protect the workers' interests and are considered a hindrance in business. They have failed to identify themselves as a strategic partner to business. Unions have been slow to embrace many HR practices that could improve union effectiveness, rejuvenate the union movement and sustain it in long run (Rau, 2012).

The nature of relationship among actors of industrial relations (managers, workers and union leaders) depends upon the power and control exercised by them. Management tries to gain control over the workforce, where as union leaders try to get benefits from management. Workers were loyal to the union, which can provide them better benefits. The nature of the workforce has changed along with its composition. There is a greater interaction between the worker and the management where as the interaction of trade unions with the rest of the actors is decreasing. The status of all the actors in the power dynamics is discussed as follows:


Management has become more powerful by impeding the trade unions through strategies like downsizing, subcontracting and outsourcing. Increase in the appointment of more contract labor has pushed them away from trade unions and legal benefits. Downsizing the workforce has weakened the trade unions as they lost members, thereby indirectly adding more power to management. The situation has forced them to work hand in glove with the unions to run the business successfully.

Trade Unions

Research evidence shows that trade unions and industrial relations institutions affect investors in different ways country-by-country, with some unexpected effects on the implementation of flexible employment practices by the investors (Meardi, 2007). Though, trade unions are trying their best to combat the challenges of liberalized economy, consumer courts are intimidating by affirming the supremacy of consumer rights over the labor rights. Trade unions resorting to industrial action, such as strikes, and bandhs (1), which disrupt public services, are asked to compensate for the loss (Venkat Ratnam, 1998).


The new generation of workers is more educated, enlightened, and ambitious. They need more money and leisure. In this changing scenario where management tries to rationalize the labor cost, workers are concerned about a secured job, but with less workload (Sheth, 1996). The nature of workforce is changing with the emergence of the knowledge workers who are now able to take care of their own interest without depending on the union.

Trade unionists argue that they are the official spokesmen of the workers whose interests can be looked after only by unions. It is implied here that the grievances of the workers are properly represented and their problems are given adequate attention by the unions. A total view of trade unionism can be obtained only by understanding what workers themselves think and feel about their unions (Mamkoottam, 1982). Apart from low membership coverage and the fragmentation of trade unions, there is also a decline in the membership (Sheth, 1993a). There is a growing alienation between trade unions and their members, particularly due to the changing characteristics of the new workforce (Sheth, 1993b; Ramaswamy, 1988; Sengupta, 1992). As per Ramaswamy (2000) the interests, attitudes, and objectives of the union leaders cannot be assumed to be identical with those of the people they represent. It would be especially fallacious to equate trade unions with workers, for unions can and do have an interest in forging agreements that workers may not identify with or even know about.

Thus, this study tries to explore the difference in perception of workers, managers and union leaders about the HR practices, and union-management relationship. Fig. 1 presents the conceptual framework of this study.

HR Practices

Union presence tends to increase (decrease) the adoption of person (performance) HRM practices in organizations (Alvaro & Jose, 2015). Some employers had used the rhetoric of HRM to conceal a deliberate anti-union policy by replacing collective machinery with an individualized employee relationship regime. Innovative HRM practices pose a threat to trade unions in four ways; the individualization of employment contract, the demise of union representation, the intensification of work and undermining of union solidarity through organizational commitment (Bratton, 1999). Mcgraw & Harley (2003) have found that MNCs are moving towards more sophisticated HR practices but there is no evidence to pursue anti-collective approach to the management of industrial relations. Similar findings were noted by Machin & Wood (2005) that there is no clear evidence of faster union decline in workplace with faster adoption of HRM practices. HRM practices typically associated with high-involvement, high-commitment or high-performance management--including team briefing, team working, formal assessment...

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