Industrial Relations of Employees and Management


Industrial relations is the nature of interactions between employees and management and this may have originated directly or indirectly from the relationship between employer(s) and the employees’ representative, most usually the union (Bain $ Woolven, 1979, p. 2). It can also be looked at a relationship that is manifested in an organization that enables interaction between the employees and the employer. The institutions through which these relationships are mediated also include the unions and the government (Barbash and Barbash, 1989, p. 198).

Human resource management on the other hand is more concerned with the individual employee rather than having a collective approach like the industrial relations. It believes that human resources are the single most important requirement for a successful business venture and should be managed effectively in order to maximize the exploitation of their expertise so as to meet the business objectives (Armstrong, 2000, p. 41).

Industrial relations and Human resource management

Industrial relations and human resource management are as similar as they are different. Although they both deal with the employees and their relationship with their employers in an effort to foster better relations, they work on different levels and for different purposes (Beardwell, 1996, p. 21).

Industrial relations can be split into two parts which are market relations and managerial relations. This means that the price of labor in this context encompasses the basic wage together with other rights, rules and obligations associated with an employee; these include all the cost of hiring labor (Edwards, 2003, p.2). Industrial relations may be taken to mean Relations between the management of an industrial enterprise and its employees. Industrial relations functions through agreements between unions and employers’ organizations, single employer and a union or through legislative enactments (Silva, 1997, p. 6).

Before human resource management developed from personnel management, people viewed it as a part or division within industrial relations. This has now changed to make human resource a separate field of study that compliments when it is not competing with industrial relations. HRM is now based on strategy and preparation and not problem solving and arbitration, hence seeks to acquire cooperation from the employees through remuneration, team building, corporate culture and development for the core employees.

The main differences between the two include the dependence of IR rules and procedures. These rules are set by the state or the employer/employee representatives while on the other hand, HRM does not depend on rules (Sofo, 1999, p. 67). HRM deals with individuals while IR deals with unions rather than with individuals directly. The rewards in the HRM are based on individual performance whereas in IR they are based on equal predetermined measures due to collectivity (Falkum, 2003, p. 2). Moreover, emergence of knowledge workers has led to the preference of HRM individuality over the IR collectivity because the workers see this as the best choice for them because it would address their needs well (Poole, 1986).

The incompatibility of the two according to Silva (1997, p 32) can be traced to the facts that:

IR considers the mass rather than the individual, IR pay decisions are on criteria different to objectives sought to be achieved by HRM, IR seeks to reconcile conflict while HRM seeks to match goals, IR communication with employees is through unions whereas in HRM its not so, IR is standardized whereas HRM is flexible.

Perspectives of IR

There are three perspectives in IR which include unitarism, pluralism and Marxism. In unitarism, the organization is seen as operating in harmony. The assumption of this perspective is that all the people in the organization share objectives and interests meaning that in their activities they are working to fulfill similar objectives. In this approach, employees’ loyalty is expected and there is no perceived need for seeking union interference (Dzimbiri, 2008, p. 2).

Pluralism perspective views the organization as being made up of powerful and different groups, which are the management and the workers representative – trade unions (Lewin, et al, 1992, p. 490). Interests are not aligned and the employers and employees conflict on sharing of profits; this would lead to the management becoming more persuasive than controlling (Adams, 1991, p. 65). The presence of trade union as employee representatives is legitimate and conflicts are settled by bargaining collectively as a group. However, there is a need for an external arbitrator and a comprehensive collective agreement drawn up by the representatives of the warring parties.

In the Marxist perspective, IR is seen as a capitalistic society together with social change theory (Kelly, 1998, p, 43). Carl Marx says that due to the inadequacies of the capitalists, socialism is seen as succeeding over capitalism. He also says that monopolies are a capitalist doing where wages are cut and a constant struggle between the workers and the employers would prevail. It sees the trade uni0on as the only way to arbitrate over these conflicts (Jackson, 1991, p. 246.

The HRM should make sure that industrial laws are observed and ensure that the managers know about their responsibilities, represent the employer in all negotiations whether internal or external and also ensure that all the decisions made are well understood. They should also come up with ways to ensure that the policies are implemented, give data on the employees during the negotiations or on need basis and create a framework for changes in an organization.

Good relations should be maintained with the union members as it would help the organization in preventing hostile situations with the workers therefore ensuring that the business runs smoothly (Losey, 2005, p. 195).


Human resource management and industrial relations may be seen as being one and the same in general terms or according to the layman. They work with the same subjects which are the employers, employees and the unions; and in the case of the industrial relations, the government directly or indirectly but the works they do are on a different level. The human resource management is concerned with the individual employee as an individual person whereas the industrial relations are concerned with the whole lot of the employees as a group. If and when the two work together the human resource management should act as the link between the industrial relations and the employee for it has the information pertaining to each employee and the experience to make sure that the employer and the employee’s needs are met in the course of work.


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Silva, S 1997, The Changing Focus of Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management, Bureau for Employers’ Activities International Labor Office, Geneva.

Sofo, F 1999, Human Resource Development, Woods lane pty limited, Warriewood.

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