The phenomena of employment relations are found in all countries where people work for others in paid employment. According to (Bamber et al 2004) employment relations deal with all aspects of employment relations, including human resource management (HRM). Therefore, in this paper the term employment relations will be used to encompass industrial relations and HRM. As a generic subject, therefore, industrial relations are ubiquitous. The field of employment relations, on the other hand, is one particular (Bain, 1974) approach to studying these phenomena and solving the problems that arise from them. It is only one of a variety of possible ways to produce and organize knowledge, and as such it has a unique frame of reference and its own theories and concepts, techniques, practices, and ideological commitments. The internationally comparative approach (Bamber et al 2004) requires insights from several disciplines and knowledge of different national contexts. Some scholars distinguish between comparative and international studies in this field. Comparative employment relations may involve a description and analysis of two or more countries. Whereby, international employment relations involve (Bamber et al 2004) exploring institutions and facts that cross national boundaries such as the labour market roles and behaviour of intergovernmental organisations, multinational enterprises and unions. International and comparative employment relations include a range of studies that span boundaries between countries. This paper will examine employment relations, reasons justifying the international comparative study of employment relations and it will also identify and critically discuss some of the difficulties and pitfalls in engaging in this academic enterprise.
The term employment relations, although not entirely transparent in meaning connotes the state of relations between employers and employees. When the tern is examined closer it is the relations between capital and labour. From the beginning (Bamber & Lansbury 1998) the field of employment relations contained three distinct and partially divergent dimensions, science-building, problem-solving and ethical/ideological faces. Employment relations as an intellectual enterprise circa the 1920s covered the subjects of work, labour and the employment relationship, and gave particular attention to relations in the work world. It also subsumed both employers’ methods of work organization and personnel management and the employees’ individual and collective response to the work experience, including strikes, trade unions and collective bargaining. It took on a multidisciplinary (Bean 1994) perspective, including attention to legal, psychological, technical, sociological, economic, ethical historical and administrative forces. Moreover, it focused on both public policy issues concerning labour and workplace practices and outcomes.
The list of topics is quite broad and covers the entire world of work. Taking the word ‘relations’ seriously suggests, however that the fundamental construct that underlies the field is the employment relationship. In its most general form, therefore, industrial relations is the study of employment relationship and all the behaviours, outcomes, practices and institutions that emanate from or impinge on the employment relationship. Industrial relations could thus be more accurately called employment relations.
Employment relations as an academic field of study first appeared in the United States in 1920. The academic person most responsible the birth and early development in the USA Wisconsin was professor John R. Commons. Commons was also co-founder of the American school of institutional economics. An important topic of interest of Commons and the Wisconsin school was trade unions and collective bargaining, but they also devoted major attention to the management of labour, labour law,...