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Employer–employee relations – industrial relations (AO3)

Industrial relations is a term that describes the relationship between employers and employers, and industrial disputes occur between trade unions and employer representatives. Neither has anything directly to do with ‘industry’! Do not be confused by these terms.

Methods used by employees to achieve individual and group objectives

Employees are likely to have one, or a combination of, the following objectives:
  • increased pay rates and improved employment packages
  • better working conditions and job security
  • better training opportunities
  • recognition of trade union rights
  • protection from harassment at work
  • greater participation in decision making
  • flexible working practices
If employee representatives are unable to reach agreement with employers in negotiations, they may enter into an industrial dispute using a number of sanctions to pressurise employers.
  • Negotiations: employees and employers may enter prolonged negotiations on pay and conditions.
  • Go slow: employees deliberately work slower, reducing productivity and output, e.g. following every health and safety requirement.
  • Work to rule: employees follow rules and procedures to the letter, e.g. refusing to undertake activities not directly specified in their contracts.
  • Overtime bans: workers refuse to do overtime. In some industries, such as transport, this is extremely disruptive as overtime is required to offer acceptable service levels.
  • Strikes: employees withdraw their labour and refuse to work in response to the breakdown of collective bargaining. A strike may be:
    • for a fixed period e.g. one-day
    • rolling (a sequence of strikes)
    • full-time, until the dispute is resolved.

Methods used by employers to achieve individual and group objectives

Employers are likely to have one, or a combination, of the following objectives:
  • improved levels of productivity
  • reductions in the costs
  • lower rates of absenteeism
  • job flexibility, e.g. employees cover absent colleagues
  • reduction in union power
  • remuneration linked to performance
Employers often use highly skilled, specialist staff to conduct negotiations and can call on the additional specialists, such as lawyers, to prevent industrial action.
Employers use some of the following methods to put pressure on employees:
  • Negotiations: employers seek to maximise their position using skilled negotiation techniques.
  • Public relations: putting forward the firm’s position through press releases and media interview.
  • Threat of redundancies: threaten the workforce with compulsory redundancies if they do not agree with management proposals.
  • Changes of contract: may not renew contracts unless employees accept different, and probably inferior, terms and conditions or employment.
  • Closure: issue an ultimatum to employees to accept the employers’ terms or stop strikes, or they will close the business, resulting in redundancies.
  • Lock-outs: prevent employees from entering work premises – in effect, a strike by the management.