Human Resources and Industrial Relations in the Public Sector

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 30 April 2016

Human Resources and Industrial Relations in the Public Sector


Industrial relations is concerned with the relationship between management and workers and the role of the regulatory mechanism in resolving any industrial dispute. It covers areas such as collective bargaining, trade unions and the government. Human resource management (HRM), which has a soft approach (people friendly) and a hard approach (people as a resource to be used as seen fit by the organization), could be summarized as a strategic approach to managing employees. The role of industrial relations has been diminished to some extent in Trinidad and Tobago with the implementation of human resource management practices and policies. However some of the aspects of the traditional public sector model and the environment it was planted in has survived till now, which affects the implementation and success of new public management.


“Comparative Industrial Relations: An Introduction to Cross National Perspectives” by Bean 1994 states, Dunlops prescription of the advancement of knowledge in IR is the need to break away from the restrictive and myopic confines of problem solving, institutional studies with individual countries- what has been termed ‘ethno-centric’ bias- in favor of border comparisons over the course of time and across countries. He postulated that the systems theory was applicable to study comparative industrial relations. Haworth 1991 however states that the systems theory fails to explain how the pattern of industrial relations has developed in Third World countries. The industrial relations system responds to social political and economic change whereby actors (mainly management) usually have a number of responses they can make, therefore there is the existence of discretion in decision making which will in turn affect industrial relations.

Kochan et al 1984. Zeitlin 1987 states, industrial relations can best be explained not by the social and economic structure but by historical divergences in institutional development resulting from the strategies and organizations of the state, trade unions and employers. This book basically deals with comparative industrial relations where research is done on similar phenomena taking place in different countries. Poole 1986 highlights four principles for this research to be done, 1. Focus on environmental influences coming from the societal processes and structures. 2. Multi-disciplinary perspectives incorporating social, political and economic aspects. 3. Explanatory variables as opposed to descriptive categories. 4. Utilizing the historical as well as contemporary dimension. Trade unions are institutional representatives of worker interests within the labour market and the society. It is collective rather than individual “concerted behavior is the essence of modern trade unionism”, (Ulman 1990)

He also spoke of the ‘individualizing’ of industrial relations into human resource management. Industrial Relations and Globalization: Challenges for Employers and their Organizations”, a document prepared by David Macdonald (1997) states that during the period of the 1990’s there were new demands of international competition and dramatic advances in technology. Globalization had also changed the nature and operation of the ‘market place’ and production in many countries across the world. Considerable demands were placed on employers and enterprises thus new structures, processes and strategies were required to be implemented. Within the enterprise, industrial Relations (IR) plays a very strategic role and many changes much be made to the traditional practices and human resource Management (HRM).

This new approach attempts to improve flexibility and skills of the workforce which would seek to improve various aspects within the workplace such as trust and communication between managers and workers etc. David’s paper focuses on industrial relations trends and developments in Asia and the Pacific with special attention paid to the challenges organizations and employers are to be faced with. The paper also observes the changing nature of industrial relations and its development as influenced by the forces of globalization, liberalization as well as the historical and current factors which influence the relations in the region. He defines industrial relations as the means by which various interests in the labour market are accommodated, primarily for the purpose of regulating employment relationships.

Industrial relations are therefore concerned with relationships within the workplace and in the organization at all levels. These relationships are expressed through collective bargaining, involvement of workers in decision making etc. Traditionally, industrial relations was to achieve collective outcomes at a national and/or sector/industry levels which are then applied to each enterprise. Human Resource Management is different as it focuses directly at the level of the enterprise seeking to align interests of workers both individually and in groups, managers for the purpose of corporate objectives, seeking to accomplish a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

In the book ‘Understanding Work and Employment: Industrial relations in Transition’ looked at the contribution and challenges of human resource management to industrial relations. Due to ‘high commitment management’, human resource management (HRM) is seen to be replacing trade unions. Traditionally, personnel was seen as a subset of IR but in the 1980’s, employee relations evolved to IR being a part of HRM. Eight main issues of HRM to IR were identified as being a change of focus from a sociology perspective to a psychology perspective, a move from pluralism to unitarism, a stress on management as the main actors in the industrial relations system, an emphasis on business strategy and ‘fit’ between policies, the application of the resource based view of the firm to employee relations, the influence of high commitment management and the challenge of the psychological contract view to the understanding of employment contract.

Industrial relations had its share of hardship as it journeyed to succession. Historians and novelists acknowledged the drastic changed made in the British society which came about during the industrial revolution. Karl Polanyi described the excruciating changes which took place as feudal societies transformed to an industrialized state. He identified that “the effects on the lives of people were awful beyond description” (Polanyi 1957, 76). Also stated was: In disposing of a man’s labor power the system would,
incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity “man” attached to the tag. Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as the victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime and starvation…. No society could stand the effects of such a system of crude fictions even for the shortest stretch of time unless human and natural substances, as well as its business organization, were protected against the ravages of this satanic mill. (Polanyi 1957, 73).

Polanyi stated that the negativity that the industrial revolution faces was not much of poor conditions under which individuals live or worked but rather the displacements faced by employees whom are no longer under the protection of cultural institutions. Employment relations and the social sciences by Hills revealed that there is a link between industrial relations and the discipline of social sciences. Steven M. Hills also extended the search of systems analysis by Dunlop where he established a structure to put in order the variety of concepts, of which many never was fully known, which comprise the study of industrial relations. Hills, in his explanation for choosing the employment relationship rather than labor union as his reference point, are because his attention was focused on the controls that govern employer-employee relationships.

Understanding these controls is an important aspect in order to express appreciation toward the underlying forces of industrial relations systems according to Hills. He also shows the closeness these controls impose by the government, labor unions and social classes. In Hills analysis, he showed the difficulties faced in all employment relationships, whether they are well-thought-out as pre-industrial, industrial or alleged “post-industrial” citizens where unions are strong, weak or nonexistent.


Industrial relations produces and organizes knowledge, it is unique and has its own theories, concepts, techniques, practices and ideological commitments. Industrial relations was born in the United Stated in the 1910’s. It was a reaction to the waste, human suffering, the social injustice as well as the employer- power in the nineteenth and early twentieth century capitalism. It also arose because it was viewed that relations between bosses and workers could be improved. Industrial relations in terms of academia is the study of labor problems but gave priority to specific areas like a strategy or institution for solving problems for example the trade unions or collective bargaining. The early version of industrial relations emphasized inherent conflict of interest which exist between the employer and employee, that there is superior bargaining power of the employer and the autocratic nature of workplace governance in the traditional firm.

With the globalization of industrial relations there was the spread of industrialism, market economics, trade union movements, protection of human rights and political democracy. There was a decline in industrial relations because of the decrease in trade union density, major forma of labour unrest, political power in many countries, the rise in human resource management, the rise in neo-liberalism, national and world politics etc. Industrial relations is centered around fostering stability, efficiency cooperation, peace and positivity. In the 1960’s there began to be a slow decline in industrial relations. There was a narrowing of the intellectual domain and the field was becoming marginalized. Numerous universities in the 1990’s dropped the term ‘Industrial Relations’ and adopted ‘employment relations’ or ‘human resources’. Over the years industrial relations had made attempts to establish itself as a self- contained academic discipline but continued to fail (Kaufman 2004).

There was the shrinking role of collective bargaining as well. The traditional industrial relations model is concerned with a particular set of phenomena associated with regulating the human activity of employment. It focuses on the implementation of rules within the work place and factors outside of the work place which influences the process. It is concerned with collective bargaining, trade unions, employers, managers and payments. John Dunlop originated the systems approach to industrial relations which is basically an integrative model which seeks to provide tools of analysis to interpret and gain an understanding and how and why particular rules are established in particular Industrial Relations systems and how and why they change in response to changes which affect the system.

John Dunlop (1991) applied the systems theory which embodies a set of actors, rules, context and ideology. Flanders (1979) and the Oxford Approach defined industrial relations as the study of institutions of job regulation. Flanders states that the institution and job regulation can be categorized into the internal and external factors; he insists that collective bargaining is central to the industrial relations system. Flanders agreed with Dunlop (1958) that rules are also essential but continued that rules are only a generic description which can be given to these various instruments of regulation. Heyman (1957) a critic of industrial relations scholars agrees that rules are a mandatory aspect as well. He however, criticizes the Oxford school and Dunlop for not acknowledging the importance of informal rules in the industrial relations system.

Heyman (1975) takes the view of the Marxist perspective and views industrial relations as the process of control over work relations, or as the political economy of waged labour. The three perspectives of industrial relations are as follows: the Marxist perspective, the unitary perspective and the pluralist perspective. Fox agrees that industrial relations provided the foundation for Human Resource Management. Concepts and practice of industrial relations are as follows, collective bargaining, trade unions, models of trade unions, the voluntarist tradition, compulsory system and the adversary system. The first four decades of the 1930’s in the English- speaking Caribbean was dominated by political unionism. The shift was largely influenced by globalization. There was rapid expansion of enterprises in almost all aspects.

The three phases which affects the Caribbean’s history were, the colonial phase and the colonial administrator, the post- colonial phase and the globalization phase. There was a social division between labour and capital in Trinidad and Tobago. During the 1930’s Trinidad and Tobago suffered the effects of the worldwide depression. There were unjust labour practices and the wages were exceptionally low. The colonial era in Trinidad and Tobago was basically one in where there was unilateralism in rule making by employers, voluntarism and non-involvement of the state and there was the social and economic exploitation of the people. During the post-colonial eras, there was the adversarial system, state control, it was pluralist to a certain extent and was unitary.


The globalization period brought drastic changes to the public sector and industrial relations. There were structural adjustment programs, free trade, foreign aid, investment as well as reforms in the labour market. Gray (1998) describes globalization as the worldwide spread of modern technologies of industrial production and communication of all kinds. The consequence was that solutions for the contemporary Caribbean were no longer the same as the ones in the past. There was a missing link and a burning need for a Human resource management approach to step in. It was the approach where “a human workplace” menaing “the company looks after their employees and the employees look after their company. The human resource management function was now an integral part of management. It can be said that the role of industrial relations, policies and practices have diminished in comparison to the earlier years under the traditional model after human resource management was introduced.

During the 1930’s in Trinidad and Tobago, the industrial relations paradigm was quite dominant. There was a severity in struggle with respect to the working class as the country had experienced periods of enslavement and indentureship, workers had no rights and there was no place for grievances. This period was controlling and dominant and there was the Royal Commission of Lord Moyne (1938) which was to investigate the labour and social conditions in the British West Indian Colonies. In Trinidad and Tobago there was hardly any political representation and all power and responsibility was centered on the governor. Trade unions had to fight for political and social status, industrial politics political unionism and trade unions- based political parties are rooted in the tradition of Caribbean societies. This legacy has continued even until today in the Trinidad and Tobago public sector.

However, it is safe to say that the implementation of human resource management policies and practice has reduced the influence and popularity of industrial relations to the public sector and society as a whole. With the implementation of various departments in organizations, including human resource departments, managers are taking are not only reducing the need for certain aspects of industrial relations but also deal with problems. Therefore the connection between employee and the trade union or government organizations are being wiped out. This may be because it fosters an environment that shows the employee that the organization cares, but may also reduce the chance of negative stories or problem leaking outside of the organization, preventing bad reputations from being created.

Human Resource Management includes conducting job analyses, planning personnel needs, recruiting the right people for the job, orienting and training, managing wages and salaries, providing benefits and incentives, evaluating performance, resolving disputes, and communicating with all employees at all levels. Examples of core qualities of HR management are extensive knowledge of the industry, leadership, and effective negotiation skills. Human resource management is formerly called personnel management. Although ‘high commitment’ as stated by some scholars, it reaps the most rewards for the organization itself.


Human resource management is seen as the new way forward. Industrial relations still has a connotation of trade union struggles and equality battles. Industrial relations still play a major role in organizations in Trinidad and Tobago. While human resource management is increasingly dealing with the issues and concerns of employees, there is still a need for government intervention. At the conciliation unit of the Ministry of Labour, Small and Micro Enterprise Development Limited, there are a thousand trade disputes reported on average per year. When management may be the problem, industrial relations and its components are of use. However, HRM is still a developing concept in Trinidad and Tobago. HRM could be seen as a developed country’s take on employee relations and Trinidad and Tobago is still developing.

Aspects of the traditional public sector still exist. Since industrial relations still play a major role in Trinidad and Tobago society, it would be wise to adopt a more employee relations approach. In the past, HRM was not entirely successful in Trinidad and Tobago. It is still a relatively new concept and field to the developing world. Due to the circumstances and nature of Trinidad and Tobago, HRM may not be the best policy to implement in society at this time. Human Resource Management can also pose as a challenge for Industrial relations as it can undermine the role of trade unions at enterprise level. Realistically however, human resource management and industrial relations policies and practices can be harmonized to benefit each other.

As society changes and more are demanded from employer, employee and the organization, adopting the more common soft approach to human resource management shows development on the part of the industrial relations system. There is a need for industrial relations in society, but by adding more roles that may have diminished due to human resource manage, it ensures not only survival but the ability to survive in a society where west is viewed as better, and human resource management is the way of the west.

Ackers, Peter, and Adrian Wilkinson. Understanding work and employment: industrial relations in transition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Bean, Ron. Comparative industrial relations: an introduction to cross-national perspectives. 2nd ed. London: International Thomson, 1999.

Collings, David G., and Geoffrey T. Wood. Human resource management: a critical approach. London: Routledge, 2009.

“Employment Relations and the Social Sciences.” Google Books. (accessed November 21, 2013).

Mac Donald, David. INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS AND GLOBALIZATION: CHALLENGES FOR EMPLOYERS AND THEIR ORGANIZATIONS . Asia-Pacific in the Twenty-First Century Turin, Italy: ILO Workshop on Employers’ Organizations, 1997.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 30 April 2016

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