Employment Relations

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Introduction

At the most fundamental level, employment relationship involves monetary exchange where there is contract between an employer and employee to obtain the output of employee’s ability to work. (Balnave et al. 2007) This relationship can often result in either dispute or collaboration within an organization. More often than not, the different aspects of the nature of employment relationship tend to likely generate conflicts between the employers and employees.

The focus would be on industrial conflict, which from time to time occurs between managers and workers, the classification of conflicts and what are some of the theories which describes the situation of industrial conflicts in Singapore. As defined by Komhauser et al., industrial conflict is ‘the total range of behaviours and attitudes that express opposition and divergent orientations between industrial owners and managers, on the one hand, and working people and their organisations on the other hand’ (1954,13).

Singapore is generally noted as a peaceful country with minimal industrial conflicts. This mainly attributed to the presence of strict regulations against overt conflicts as stated in the requirements of ‘restrictions on strikes and lock-outs’ (Attorney General Chambers 2009). The presence of mediation or conciliation channel also assisted in the resolution of concerning issues. Conflicts are seen to be complicated and in Singapore, some causes or outline that are governed by theories of Industrialisation, Institutionalisation, Political, Economic and Social factors. More of these would be looked into further in this essay.

Overt and Covert Conflicts

Opposing behaviours and attitudes can be classified into 2 categories, namely overt conflict and covert conflict. According to Petzall et al. (2007), overt conflicts are conflicts which are planned and joint by two or more persons, thus observable by the public. Examples of such conflicts include strikes, lockouts, work to rule where employees perform only duties which are indicated in their contracts, political demonstrations and many more. Petzall et al. (2007) also mentioned that covert conflicts are conflicts which are unplanned, concerns individual and hence less observable by the public. Examples would include absenteeism, work sabotage, job-hopping where people change jobs to get better pay or pursue their personal interest as well as low work efficiency. Covert conflict is seen to prevail over overt conflict in terms of the financial losses of a business.

In Singapore’s context, it would be considered illegal to have overt conflicts due to the existing strict criminal law stated in Attorney General Chambers (2009) Despite the fact that there were strict laws to adhere to, there are several channels such as Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC), Case Trust, Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and more, where individuals could approach to resolve certain conflicts they experienced.

For example, Sharon (2011) reported on a case of disagreement between SIA and SilkAir pilots and their company over their flight payment. The issue was referred to Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC) where the judge proposed that the company could have constant observation of the flight schedule to make sure there is fair payouts distribution. In this scenario, IAC had acted as a conciliator.

The reduction of conflict in Singapore is also due to tripartism, wage reform and labour legislation. In tripartism, there is involvement of managers, employees and ‘other systems such as political, social, economic, technological, cultural and legal systems’ (Tan 2007, p.27). These parties would resolve matters in a diplomatic manner.

The establishment of National Wage Council (NWC) brings about tripartism where workers’ wages are evaluated and wage reform, where there is flexibility in the wage payouts, was introduced. Tan (2004) mentioned that the benefits were studied and...
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