Definition of Industrial Relations

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The study if industrial relations like some other fields of study present a complex set of definitions of which none is universally agreed as the most appropriate definition. Some authors advocate for the definition of the scope of industrial relations in narrow terms in order to grasp its concepts, while others prefer a broader view of a network of social relationships in the industry.

Flanders (1965:10) articulates that the study of industrial relations may be described as a study of institutions of job regulation. Job regulation is defined as the process of controlling job content through the creation of rules. There can be unilateral job regulation, by management or by workers/unions, or joint job regulation through collective bargaining. Job content may be affected by collective agreements both inside and outside the factory, by legislation, by works rules and wages structures.

According to Blyton and Turnbull (1998), the Oxford School made up of Flanders, Clegg and Fox reiterate that a system of rules makes up the industrial relations system. These rules appear in different guises, in legislation and statutory orders, in trade union regulations, in collective agreements, in arbitration awards, in social conventions, in managerial decisions and accepted custom and practice. The subject deals with certain regulated or institutionalised relationships in industry and rules is the only generic term that can be given to the various instruments of regulation.

Flanders stresses that not all relationships associated with the organisation of the industry are relevant. The only aspect of the business enterprise with which industrial relations is concerned is the employment aspect, the relationship between the enterprise and its employees and among those employees themselves. The relationships are identified by placing them in a legal setting.

Rules that regulate industrial relations are subdivided in two, which are procedural clauses and substantive clauses. Procedural clauses are those agreements that deal with such matters as the methods to be used and the stages to be followed in the settlement of disputes. Substantive clauses refer to the rates of wages and working hours or other job terms and conditions in the segment of employment covered by agreement.

One of the aspects of rules is to establish rights and obligations which define status. The procedural rules of industrial relations settle the status of any of the parties participating in job regulation whether this is through collective bargaining or other methods. The substantive rules attach various rights and obligations to jobs and settle their status regardless of individuals who occupy them. They fix the rate for the job and many other standard terms and conditions of employment.

Clegg (1979) is one of the authors who subscribe and concretize the notion that industrial relations is all about the study of rules in the workplace. He states that industrial relations is about the study of rules governing employment together with the ways in which that rules are made and changed, interpreted and administered. Bain and Clegg (1974), say that industrial relations is a study of all aspects of job regulations, the making and administering of rules which regulate employment relationship regardless of whether these are seen as being formal or informal, structured or unstructured. The rules themselves cannot be apart from the organisation that takes part in the process, namely trade unions, employers associations and government and consequently each of the organisations has its own sources of authority.

Literally, for industrial relations to be seen as job regulation there must be a system of web of rules regulating employment and the ways in which people behave at work. Internal regulation must be concerned with procedures for dealing with grievances, redundancies or disciplining problems and rules concerning the operation of the pay system. External...
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