Notes on Industrial Relations & Technology.

AuthorMajumder, Mrinmoy


Industrial relations in some sections of academia and industry is also termed as "Employee Relations, Labor-Management Relations and/or Labor Relations" (Kay, 1979; Freckel, 1986; Patil, 1992; Freckle & Harrods, 1995). Nonetheless, each of these terms consider 'workplace relationships', an important component of industrial relations. The industrial relations studies attempt to organize workplace relationships into a structured format among its stakeholders namely: workers/trade union, employer/management and the State. According to Patil (1992) out of all these terms 'Industrial Relations' is the most popular.

Venkata Ratnam (2006: 23) defines industrial relations as 'relationships between employers/managers and workers and their unions in the production/service process'. The workers' approach in industrial relations is to seek better working conditions, wages, to have fair grievance handling mechanisms and job security. The role of the union is to represent workers and put forward their demands to the management/employer and to mediate between workers and the management. The management/ employer's role is to optimize production in exchange of fair working conditions, providing fair wages and facilitating constructive and frequent dialogues with the union. Therefore, the industrial relations studies emerged to create harmonious workplace relationship in an organization. However, in an organization that manufactures products/generate services, the 'embedded sense' of establishing and managing relationship remains critical across various processes within the organization. Workplace relationships are shaped by goals and objectives decided among its stakeholders (worker, trade union and employer). From a broader perspective, goals and objectives are governed by economic transactions that further determine the prospect of manufacturing/generating services process. Regardless of whether an organization belongs to manufacturing or services sector, workplace relationship remains a critical aspect of organization. This article is an attempt to summarize significant industrial relations literature with an objective to delineate the role of technology within the industrial discourse in India.

Industrial Relations System

Dunlop (1958) was one of the first few scholars, who contributed in establishing the basic premise of industrial relations. Dunlop understood industrial relations in terms of a 'systems framework', which he called as 'industrial relations system'. There are four important elements in the industrial relations system--'Actors', 'Context', 'Ideologies' and 'Rules'. These four elements are interrelated to each other and tie the industrial relations system together. The first element of the systems framework, 'Actors' is further divided into three categories--'Employers/ Management', 'Workers/Trade Unions' and the 'Government'. The relationship between the employers/management and workers is directly related, as they both co-exist in a similar organizational setup. Employers supervise the workers, who are compensated through wages and incentives. Employers are responsible for coordination and management of work and workplace relationships that collectively foster the organization towards harmonious work environment. Simultaneously, workers perform their task communicated to them through protocols and guidelines and they are represented by trade unions acting as a mediator between the workers and the management. Industrial relations strive on this basic premise of worker and management bonding. In the systems framework, the role of government as an actor is to regulate the labor market and to implement laws that can guide and support the workers as well as the management. The element of 'context' is an important characteristic of the organization. Other characteristics include technology, market dynamics and types of society in which the organizations exist. The 'ideologies' of the actors, who have certain beliefs and ideas, require a commune to support the actors to integrate with each other into the systems framework which is simply referred to as 'solidarity'. One crucial element in the industrial relations system is the 'element of rules'. Rules are the culmination of procedures that are established and administrated by all the actors. Management establishes the organizational hierarchy, workplace policies, reward system and protocols. Workers are supposed to negotiate and perform within the confines of rules agreed upon (through collective bargaining). Government establishes various rules through regulations, legal orders and amendments. According to Dunlop (1958), these rules govern the relations of the actors that form the framework of industrial relations system.

Rogowski (2000: 98) draws an analysis of industrial relations system that Dunlop had borrowed from Talcott Parsons' 'sociological theory of social systems'. The theory of social systems provided an analysis of the society structure and traced the evolution of the society. Evolution is the process of modernization that creates differentiation in the social system. Therefore, evolution of the society leads to modernization by causing a radical shift from primitive to modern society. Primitive society, according to Parsons, had a low degree of differentiation, whereas modern societies have several differentiations based on economics, politics and culture (Rogowski, 2000). Similarly, Dunlop's industrial relations system focuses on the differentiation in the society that led to the creation of industrial societies. Industrial societies are the outcome of the modernization processes where workers and supervisors are formally related to each other, essentially outside the realm of family and friends. This systems framework extended the concept of the social systems in the industrial society, laying emphasis on workplace relationships.

According to Bean (1994), Dunlop's industrial relations system has been one of the most influential industrial relations approaches in the world. Despite its popularity, this framework has been critiqued from numerous quarters on the ground that it does not cover the political ideologies that shape the context that has a strong influence on society (Shalev, 1981). Largely, the element of actors does not remain constant and over a period. Besides, some of the actors may have more power at their disposal. Due to the economic transition, many new forms of work have evolved where the industrial relations system framework cannot be accounted for. New forms of work do not necessarily have all the actors to determine industrial relations. Furthermore, Dunlop's system framework does not account for the post-industrial society that is the by-product of economic liberalization.

Workplace Conflicts

Economic organizations exist in an industrial setup...

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