Conflict between Trade Unions and Management

According to Fox, a manager should have an alternative ‘frame of reference’ that will help in analysing employee relations. Many managers use unrealistic ‘frames of reference’ that end up distorting the existing facts thus making solutions very elusive. Fox further explains that there is the need to develop an efficient and effective frame of reference that can view industrial relation conflicts in a realistic manner offering proper solutions (1966. Pp. 34).

Fox is against some unrealistic ideologies that are used by managers to serve their interests forgetting the needs of employees.

According to him workplace ideologies cannot and will never solve conflicts at the work place. Ideologies should be in a position to persuade, self reassure and legitimise work-related issues. It is clear that Fox was against the Unitarists’ view and was in support of Pluralism. According to Fox, the ideology that defines Unitarism is being abandoned because of its incongruent nature of reality (1966, pp.38).

Unitarism and Pluralism

UnitarismAccording to Fox, there exist two frames of reference, namely Unitarists and pluralist perspectives.

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Unitarism view conflict as very unnatural and something out of the ordinary, hence its abnormal nature. The Unitarists, as a result, try to eliminate conflicts that exist in the workplace. Unitarists believe clashes in the workplace arise due to poor management and lack of proper communication. Managers with poor communication and administration skills are to blame for any conflicts that result from the workplace. However, other conflicts may also be as a result of few employees that want to start trouble and chaos at the workplace (1966, p.

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According to Fox, the main elements of Unitarism include a single authority in a Company that has no opposition at all (1966, p.7). In addition, they agree that the organizational managers’ role is to encourage employees to remain loyal and committed to the Organization (Budd et al., 2004, pp. 36). Lastly according to Collins et al. (2005, pp. 23), Unitarists believe that organizations mainly function as teams and, as a result, they have mutual goals to achieve. It means that they have no conflicts of interest among them including between managers and employees.

Unitarism support the joining of hands between the managers and employees to achieve shared goals, values, vision and interests as the managers lead by example through active leadership to help in attaining set goals. They believe that conflicts in an organisation negatively affect its operations leading to disloyalty leading to the impairment of many Companies. They believe that the Government is autonomous and should shape the systems in industrial relations.


According to Collins et al. (2005, pp.987), Pluralists suggests that an organisation has many stakeholders involved in decision-making and pushing their interests. Conflicts, in such environments is standard and cannot be avoided thus the need for managers to handle it in an amicable manner. Pluralists support collective bargaining. According to Fox (1992, p 9), Trade unions do not introduce conflicts in organizations but the conflicts are endemic. If conflicts are handled well, both stakeholders will benefit, and collective bargaining is the path to take. Managers can even become creative in containing conflicts by reaching best agreements and creating very efficient methods of addressing the issues.

Conflict in the labour market

Conflict is defined as a discontent that comes from a perceived collision of individuals’ or groups interests and desires, when everyone takes a different expression or opinion. Conflicts in the labour market are unavoidable, but if well managed by the involved stakeholders, it can lead to improved performance. Industrial conflict often occurs when the workers are expressing their frustrations with their leaders in management over the way current affairs are being run in the organization. The main causes of conflicts include disagreeing on salary payment, wage increment and remunerations as stated in the employment contracts.

Forms of conflict

Employees may choose to express their dissatisfaction either in a formal or informal manner depending on the issue being raised. Formal methods of expressing dissatisfaction are well planned and organised in advance while Informal ones occur spontaneously and have no organisation taking the managers by surprise.

Types of organised/ Formal conflicts


According to Collins et al. (2005, pp.117), a strike occurs when an employee temporarily withdraws his/her services, an action that is against the employment contract. Strikes are formal industrial conflicts that are organised by respective trade unions that represent workers in various organisations. Trade unions represent the employees to ensure that their working conditions and payments are abiding by the laid down rules. During strikes, trade unions try to eliminate any possible alternative that employers can use to get services denied by the employees. A strike will continue until the top leadership in the organisation address the matter at hand, addressing the issues that caused it in the first place.

Work-to –rule

According to Budd et al, (2005, pp.44), Work-to –rule is a formal conflict in labour relations where the employees observe all the legal conditions in their employment contracts and deliberately refuse to use their initiative by acting rigidly and like machines that have already been programmed. An example may include nursing staff who refuses to answer Doctor’s calls because it is not included anywhere in the employment contract. Another example may involve a stenographer that refuses to change the grammatical errors committed by her employer because her primary role is only to transcribe. Work-to –rule is not illegal; therefore no employee can be punished, despite it slowing down performance progress in the organisation

Protests and demonstrations

Workers may also demonstrate against management’s action to undermine their rights. Demonstrations are legal as long as the employees observe the federal laws. Demonstrations may be organised by trade unions representing the employees.

Types of unorganised/ informal conflicts


According to Collins et al. (2005, pp.124), absenteeism is an informal conflict in the workplace where workers deliberately refuse to go to work. However, absenteeism may not be an industrial conflict because employees may fail to report to work because of many varied reasons for sickness or injury. When employees fail to go to work and they do not give grounds for the absenteeism either prior or after; then it is considered to be an informal conflict. Absenteeism reduces revenue and productivity of organizations, hence management need to come up with strategies that will avoid it.


Sabotage is a deliberate damage of employees’ reputation and production by employees as a means of expressing their grievances. Workers may choose to slow down production, disable machines used in processing, slander the Company or directly destroy the firm’s property. Most employees that carry out sabotage hide themselves but are willing to avail themselves when the pressure hits up.


Many employees may choose to resign from their positions and even head to the rivalry company as a result of a protest against certain management practices. It may affect the reputation of the Company or even make the firm loose its competitive nature due to losing best employees to their competitor.


Employees may choose to steal from their employer as a protest for poor payment. Workers may organise to steal organisations’ consignment meant for their clients or Production purposes ruining their reputation.

Legal regulation of conflict in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom labour laws describe strikes as illegal and, as a result ;nobody is allowed to conduct a strike. However, employees can express their grievances through their trade unions or Labour relations as stated in the Consolidation Act 1992 (TULRCA 1992). Any employees taking part in a strike are required to give a notice to the affected employee and get its members to ballot; if they get a majority vote then the industrial action can go on.Legislations in the United Kingdom labour laws that focus on employee rights are in support for Individualism as compared to collectivism Jurisdictions.

Individual Conflicts

According to Collins et al, (2005, pp.1024), any organization that is aiming at improving its operations need to minimise the individual conflicts at the place of work. Good managers can also turn the individual conflicts to benefit the firm by understanding every employee. Managers can conduct feedback and interactive sessions as well as face-face meetings with its employees. In addition, every manager should understand the dislikes and likes of his staff including their strong and weak points. Leaders should learn to value their employees’ opinions to make them feel valued. They can go ahead and give leave days to employees that look frustrated and tired.

When an employee is found to have committed an offence it is very crucial for the managers to handle the disciplinary action with uttermost care.

How to resolve individual conflicts

Discipline is an action taken against a person that has failed to confine ton the rules set by a Company of where he works. Grievance on the other hand is a condition on employment terms that appear contrary to the stated rules in individual or collective contracts.

It is important for the employees to ensure that:

Employees understand what their standard of performance and conduct is and the consequences of failing to meet the standards.

Managers should identify the obstacles that can make employees not to meet the standards and look for solutions.

Both employees and employers should agree on objectives and timeframe to achieve.

Employer should resolve a dispute using the employment tribunal

If an employee is dismissed the manager should be able to prove to the tribunal that the due process was followed (Clegg, 1979, pp. 21).

Collective conflicts

According to Collins et al., (2005, pp.24), Individual employees face many problems like low wages, lack of incentives and poor working environment. Even though, the workers face the problems individually, they cannot attract the managers’ attention due to lack of bargaining power. When trade unions address the issues, then it becomes a collective conflict, and it increases the bargaining power of the employees rather than solving a case by case scenario.

Trade unions play a significant role in collective conflicts by increasing the bargaining strength of workers in various employment situations collectively. Collective bargaining assists employees in presenting their grievances and ensures that management does not take a unilateral step or decision.

Conflict resolution mechanism

It is important for management to realize that conflicts at the place of work are inevitable. Employers and employees will always have issues especially in relation to employment contracts and wage payments. Management should come up with an employment tribunal that will deal with the problems whether individual or collective.

When some of the conflicts are so complicated, there is the need for mediation to take place as soon as possible. Employers need to address issues at the workplace as quickly as possible. Postponing will only make the situation more complicated. Mediation helps a lot in solving conflicts before they become more complex. It provides a neutral ground fro employer and employees’ to discuss their issues and come up with solutions that are mutual. Mediation should encourage open communication and should be done by professionals that can develop solutions.

According to Collins et al., (2005, pp.124), leaders should define to their employees what protocols to observe to reduce conflicts. It is important for them to create a framework that will encourage good business practices, team building, and talent management. A manager should clearly state actions that will not be tolerated. In addition, it is important for organisations to hit conflicts facing them head-on. Employers should seek out issues that will bring conflicts and intervene as soon as possible. This will help avoid some conflicts from coming up.

Clegg believes that before solving conflicts it is essential for every party to understand the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor. It is very critical for all sides ton understand the motivation of others before trying to resolve the conflict. Avoiding conflicts by helping others achieve their objectives will provide a platform to conflict resolution (1979, pp. 22).

Stakeholders in conflict resolution in the labour market

Trade Unions and Employees.

According to Trade Union & labour Relations (Consolidated Act 1992) a trade union is an organisation with workers as its members, whose primary function is to regulate the relationship between employees and employers or Employers’ Unions. The main purpose of a trade union is to protect and promote the interests of their workers who are their members.Trade unions try to get highest wage payment for its members and influence the rules and regulations that govern employment. In addition, they work as employees’ source of power as they control the government to formulate laws that benefit the employee.

According to Budd et al. (2004, pp. 26), employers need to recognise trade unions because they provide a mechanism at the place of work that improves communication. It also helps to regulate employee-employer relationship. In addition trade, unions maintain active employment culture in labour relations. Most employers, however resist trade unions because the pose a challenge to the authority of the leaders in the organisation causing potential disruption of work at the firm. Some unions may not be willing to co-operate promoting rise in strikes and strives. Many managers prefer other useful channels of addressing employees’ grievances than use of trade unions.

The Government

Trade Union and labour relations (Consolidated) (1992, p. 108), defines the government as a state of the day, including the other agencies that perform their will through implementation of labour policies and their legislation. The government may be an employer, income regulator, rule formulator, manpower moderator or the protector of employees, thus the wide responsibility.

The employer

According to Fox (1966, p. 6) the employer is responsible for supplying its workforce with employment contracts that are favourable and abide by the labour laws in the United Kingdom. At the same time, they should provide a working environment that is beneficial to the employee. As much as their primary goal is to maximise profits it is important for the employer to mind the needs of a worker. Budd et al. believes that the company should acknowledge trade unions and use them as opportunities to move to the next level. Trade unions push employees’ agenda and if companies can use the issues raised to benefit the employee then performance will improve automatically as most employees will feel satisfied (2004 pp. 14).


Organisational conflict, trade unions, Governments, employers and collective bargaining are critical areas of interest in labour relations. Fox’s views on unitarism and pluralism clearly bring out the conflicts that arise at the workplace. According to Fox, the Unitarism perspective explains that what benefits the employee will automatically benefit the employer and conflict should not be taken as a typical phenomenon. According to the Unitarists, many managers and workers see their organisation in a unitary shape and are impressed with existing situations.

The pluralists have an opposite view, however, arguing that what benefits the Company disadvantages’ the employees with the reverse being true. They believe that the interests of workers are very different from those of the employer. Due to the existence of poor labour laws, powerful Multinationals and desperate competition of employees, there exist weak employment conditions.

In order to have a balance among the competing parties in the working relationship, Fox explains that firms need to go for the pluralist view as the most efficient and effective mechanism for solving conflicts that cannot be avoided. The frame of reference developed by Fox embraces the interests of both parties hence its relevance to the present society.

Conflicts can either be organised or informal with strikes, absenteeism, sabotage and work-to –rule being the most common. Many organisations should come up with mechanisms to solve both the individual and collective conflicts appropriately to avoid affecting their operations. There is the need for the Government, employees, employers and Trade unions to work together to ensure that conflicts are handled in a mature manner.


Budd, J. et al. (2004), “Why A Balance Is Best: The Pluralist Industrial Relations Paradigm Of Balancing Competing Interests”, Industrial Relations Research Association, Research Volume. Pp. 12-48.

Clegg, H. A. (1979). “The Changing System of Industrial Relations in Great Britain”. Oxford University press: Blackwell. Pp. 17-37.

Collins, H. Keith, Ewing, & Aileen McCoglan. (2005). “Labour Law: Text and Materials 2nd Edition, Kogan Publishers: London. PP 1-1100.

Commons, J.R. (1919), “Industrial Goodwill”. McGraw-Hill: New York. Pp.125-193

Flanders, Management & Unions, pp. 172 (08/10/10)

Edwards, P. (2010). “The Employment Relationship”, pp.11-12

Fox, A. (1966). “Industrial Sociology and Industrial Relations”. Donovan: London Publishers: London, pp. 1- 187.

Commission Research Paper No. 3, HMSO, London. Kochan, T. (1980). “Collective Bargaining and Industrial Relations: From Theory to Policy and Practice”. Homewood, Ill. Irwin: London pp.41-128.

Slides, Perspectives on Industrial Relations, Sept 2010 (08/10/10) (10/10/10) (08/10/10) (08/10/10)

Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

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Conflict between Trade Unions and Management. (2015, Sep 01). Retrieved from

Conflict between Trade Unions and Management

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