Article 1: “Future Issues For Industrial Relations” (Source: http://www.ilo.org) Continuing Relevance of Industrial Relations In a globalised environment with businesses, money and people moving with relative ease across borders, the relentless pursuit of competitive advantage at the expense of all else, the disruption of social relationships and stability, the rapid outdating of knowledge, skills and technology, with learning being a life-long pursuit, and increasing job insecurity, the only certain factor is change and its rapidity. Poverty worldwide is nowhere near reduction to minimal levels, and on the contrary, is increasing. Many of the benefits of recent changes have benefitted a few, and in many countries income gaps are widening, rather than narrowing. It has been suggested by eminent writers that the world may well be heading towards over-production of goods, food shortages, and environmental degradation. Before we dispense with institutions or systems that have contributed to social stability, it is worthwhile assessing their continued relevance. Industrial relations is one such. IR is no doubt undergoing needed changes, but it is by no means irrelevant. Its major contribution was that it facilitated distributive justice and thereby contributed to social stability. Western Europe is probably the best example of an IR system which was underpinned by its social market principles and, by concerning itself with distributive justice and equity, raised the living standards of the majority, thus providing decades of relative social stability. If, as many employers claim, the labour market in that region is too regulated in the context of the changed environment, this does not imply a total abandonment of the system, but only its reform. In fact when we speak of changes in IR in many countries, it does not always imply a radical change, but rather a change of emphasis. For instance, the idea of negotiation on which collective bargaining is based, continues to be valid even if the trend is towards decentralized bargaining. Nor is there anything in HRM that contradicts the value of negotiation. HRM undoubtedly poses a challenge to IR as we have seen. But a democracy and pluralism are based on the recognition of different interest groups within a society, each acting as a check and balance in relation to the other to prevent a centralization of power. A system that provides some external regulation of the behaviour of groups must therefore be necessary. Since HRM is enterprise-focused, there is a need for a system that can deal with issues that arise in the external labour market. At last for those who have no individual bargaining power - and they constitute the majority of the world's working population traditional IR institutions such as freedom of association, collective bargaining, minimum employment terms (e. g. age of employment, force labour, safety and health, holidays), social security and dispute settlement mechanisms continue to be relevant. Policies need
to be formulated on these matters and applied across society. The fact that some traditional IR features may need to be changed does not imply that they are irrelevant; the need for a greater enterprise focus does not imply the absence of a national focus as well. IR institutions continue to have the following relevance: • • •
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Collective bargaining, even if it be at the enterprise level, can still help to reduce inequalities in negotiating power Freedom of association provides the foundation for the recognition that employees have rights. Industrial peace needs to be ensured both by addressing it at the enterprise level, any by providing in the event of their failure, safeguard mechanisms external to the enterprise such as conciliation, courts or tribunals. Processes such as tripartism are needed to ensure that the relevant parties have the opportunity to influence labour policy and legislative outcomes. The boundaries of action...
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