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Industrial Relations and Their Recent Adaptations Compare & Contrast Essay

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Updated: Aug 20th, 2019


During the 21st century, the issue of employment relations has increasingly become very complex and delicate. To survive in the current business environment, firms have to ensure that they establish and maintain good relationship with the various stakeholders (Kumar, 2011, p.374). This can be attained by integrating the concept of industrial relations.

Sivarethinamohma ( 2010, p.5) further asserts that industrial relations are an outcome of two main aspects which include employment relations and human resources management. Industrial relations contribute toward improvement in the rate of productivity within an organization.

Industrial relations create of an environment conducive for working and establishes a mutually beneficial labor-management relations. It also results into reduction of internal conflicts and maintaining democracy within the workplace (Kumar, 2011, p.374).

This paper entails a description of approaches to industrial relations and their recent adaptations with specific reference to human resource management and neo-institutionalism. The element of conflict and cooperation at the workplace in relation to the two approaches is explained.

Description of two approaches of industrial relations

Unitarism approach to industrial relation

In this approach, organizations are considered to be harmonious and integrated systems. As a result, they operate as one happy family. The approach also integrates an authoritarian or paternalistic approach which asserts that all employees should consider the organization as a team (Pizam, 2007, p.502).

Through this approach, the employer convinces the employees that all their needs will be taken care of by making decisions with take into account their interests. As a result all employees are required to be loyal.

In this approach, trade unions are considered to be illogical, irrelevant and uncalled for. They are also considered to be an intrusion to the operation of the organization. This perspective asserts that trade unions in organizations exist as a result of management failure to meet the needs of the employees or due to employees’ perverseness.

The unitarism approach stresses on direct negotiations with the employees. This is due to the fact that it perceives organizations to be unitary with regard to purpose, structure, source of authority and to be composed of unified participants (Singh, n.d, p.15).

Pluralism approach

The basis of this approach is that organizations operate as coalitions (Singh, n.d, p. 15). As a result, conflicts within organizations are inevitable due to competing interests. The approach also asserts that the role of organization’s management team is to mediate between the various interest groups.

Trade unions in the pluralism approach are regarded as legal representative of the interests of the employees. Additionally, attainment of stability with regard to workplace relations occurs through compromises and concessions between trade unions and the management teams.

Human Resource management (HRM)

The approach of human resource management is concerned with managing human resources. As a result, it is composed of a number of policies and practices which are aimed at enhancing employee commitment, improving the quality of work and attaining flexibility.

Some of the issues incorporated in HRM include employee recruitment, selection, remunerations and employee appraisal. These are the most important elements of HRM. In summary one can assert that HRM is mainly composed of a set of managerial initiatives (Silva, n.d, p.9).


The above approaches to industrial relations have undergone significant developments over the years. This has resulted into emergence of other approaches. An example of such approach is neo-institutionalist approach. This approach has emanated from development in the pluralism approach. The objective of this approach is to expand the value of pluralist thinking.

Neo-institutionalist approach asserts that organizations are open systems whose operations are affected by the environment within which they operate (Fenton-O’Creevy, 2005, p. 76). One of the main areas of concern of this approach relates to employment relationship.

Conflict and cooperation at work in relation to the above approaches

The approach also assumes congruency of purpose, interest and objectives between the organizations’ management teams and the employees. This means that there is no conflict of interest in the organization’s operation processes.

As a result, both the firm and the employees are concerned with ensuring efficient production and attainment of high profits which culminate in high remuneration. Lack of conflict of interest between the employees and the managers enables them to work together (Singh,n.d, p.12).

The approach also asserts that conflicts between the various organizational stakeholders for example through strikes are disruptive. In the event of conflicts, they are considered to be as a result of miscommunication and misunderstanding. The resultant effect is emergence of agitators or trouble makers whose agenda deviates from the organization’s agenda.

Conflicts can also originate from poor management. To resolve such conflicts, all that is required is for the management team to refocus its management strategies. For example, the source of conflict may be as a result of the management team being insensitive in meeting the employees’ needs.

With regard to cooperation, unitarism approach to industrial relations asserts that organizations should work as a unit. One of the ways through which this can be attained is by integrating the concept of teamwork within the organization. Additionally, the approach also asserts that it is the organization’s management teams which have the prerogative of making organizational decisions.

This is one of the major limitations of unitarism approach. The position of most employees is that they should be given an opportunity to participate in the process of making workplace related decisions. Additionally, employees believe that participation in decision making is very important in the organization’s effort to attain employee development.

For example, through teamwork an organization is able to promote creativity and innovation amongst the employees. Additionally, teamwork also promotes a certain degree of discretion in the process of making decisions. The resultant effect is that problem solving skills amongst the employees are enhanced.

Establishment of trade unions is one of the ways through which cooperation within an organization can be attained. However, unitarism approach perceives trade unions as a form of internal competition with regard to the employees’ cooperation and commitment.

However, according to pluralism approach, is possible to manage these conflicts through various arrangements. Conflicts within organizations should be resolved through agreed procedures. For example, one of the main sources of conflict between trade unions and the management team relates to distribution of profits.

However, such conflicts in industrial systems should be resolved through integration of the concept of collective bargaining (Sivarethinamoha, 2010, p. 13). This approach asserts that collective bargaining is an important element a particular industrial system in that it contributes towards formulation of effective organizational rules.

This arises from the fact that the collective bargaining process is considered to be a political system which emanates from the fact that the employees and the employers possess a certain amount of power.

According to this approach, managers should consider and accept conflicts as a part and parcel of their daily operation. Additionally, if taken positively, conflicts can result in positive change hence contributing towards organizational evolution (Purcell, 2006, p.34)..

In resolving conflicts, this approach postulates that personnel and industrial relations specialists should be incorporated in the operation of the organization. Their main role should entail provision of specialized advice to managers with regard to matters related to staffing, negotiations and union consultations (Sivarethinamohma, 2010, p.14).

Independent external mediators should also be incorporated to assist in the process of dispute resolution. The approach also recommends that sufficient scope should be given to union representatives so as to enable them undertake their representative duties.

Human resource management approach asserts that conflicts within organizations should be resolved through promotion of diversity. As a result, divergence in employees’ views should be respected. On the other hand, conflicts within organizations in neo-institutional approach are resolved through rules. Additionally, integration of rules also contributes towards attainment of cooperation.

According to Fenton-O’Creevy (2005, p.76), neo-institutionalism perceives employment relationship in organizations to be guided by two main types of rules.

These include the substantive/procedural rules and the formal/informal rules. The substantive rules clearly stipulate the actual conditions of the employment relationship. For example, they may stipulate the wage per hour of an employee on the basis of his or her experience.

Procedural rules outline how future policies for example managing change and handling disputes will be made. On the other hand, the formal rules relate to issues such as contracts and awards while the informal rules entail the customs and practices within a particular entity.

This is relatively different from the pluralist approach which is more concerned about the how the various interest groups within an entity interact and the stability developed.

Neo-institutional approach also asserts that it is important for human resource managers to understand the various forces that determine the employment relationship in their strategic management processes. This is due to the fact that different external forces affect employment relationship. These forces emanate from a number of sides such as supply side, demand side, the society or maybe historically derived.

Forces from the supply side may relate to availability of appropriate technology, finance, raw materials and effective labor. On the other hand, forces from the demand side may relate to demand of the finished product. Forces emanating from the society may relate to number of working hours and the legal age for employment (Fenton-O’Creevy,2005, p.77).


From the above analysis, it is evident that there are different approaches to industrial relations. The main objective of these approaches is to explain the relationship between the employer and the employees. The approaches also illustrate the divergence that exists with regard to industrial relations. Some of the core areas of divergence relate to conflict and cooperation.

The unitarism approach asserts that organizations operate as a family whereby there is absolute cooperation between the employers and the employees. As a result, there are no conflicts. The pluralism approach recognizes conflicts to be a core element in the operation of firms.

HRM is concerned with improving organizational performance through various managerial initiatives. The neo-institutional approach is an expansion of the pluralism approach. The main concern of neo-institutionalism is to explain the rules that govern employment relationships.

Reference List

Fenton-O’Creevy, M. (2005). Diffusion of HRM to Europe and the role of US MNCs. New York: Butterworth.

Kumar, R. (2011). Human resource management: Strategic analysis text and cases. New Delhi: I.K International.

Pizam, A. (2007). International encyclopedia of hospitality management. New York: Butterworth- Heinemann.

Purcell, J. (2006). The Oxford handbook of human resource management. London: Oxford Publishers.

Silva, S. (n.d). Human resource management : Industrial relations and achieving management objectives. Bangkok: International Labor Organization.

Singh, P. (n.d). Employee relations management. New Delhi: Pearson Education India.

Sivarethinamohan, R. (2010). Industrial relations and labor welfare: Text and cases. New Delhi: New Delhi PHI Learning.

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