What Is Employment Relations

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  • Topic: Pluralism, Industrial relations, Ideology
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International Employment Relations Review, Vol. 8, No. 2, 2002 49

WHAT IS EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS? Peter Slade University of the Sunshine Coast This article examines the question as to whether or not a new paradigm of employment relations is emerging. In doing so, it examines the nature of ideologies, and argues that the specific adoption of pluralism and the joining of Industrial Relations and Human Resources Management as a prerequisite to the evolution of a new field of enquiry is misplaced. It is suggested that any coherent social science of Employment Relations should examine the fundamental nature of workplace relationships and not be overly concerned with the contrived use and manipulation of organising frameworks from discipline areas such as Industrial Relations and Human Resources Management. An alternative framework is offered which allows for the generation of hypotheses, model building and empirical testing. Introduction Joan Robinson (Robinson, 1970) once said that a reason why modern life is so uncomfortable is that people have grown self conscious about things that used to be taken for granted. It would seem that writers and practitioners in the field of employment relations are no exception. The editorial in the first edition of the ‘International Journal of Employment Studies’ pointed to a common theme of the study of employment, related behaviours, organisations and institutions, whilst avoiding ‘definition of its purpose in terms of particularistic discipline or paradigm’ (Morris, 1993). Apparently the aim of the Journal is to accept articles which examine the nature of employment from an eclectic range of paradigms, and indeed, ideologies. Several commentators and writers have attempted some narrowing and closer definition of the field (Fastenau and Pullin, 1994; Mortimer and Morris, 1995). However, in doing so they have failed to take cognisance of their own ideologies which reside in the background and inform the nature and direction of their theorising. There are common threads and assumptions within the corpus of the literature of these and other writers. Most argue that the incorporation of a pluralistic frame of reference and the integration of Industrial Relations and Human Resources Management (or similar areas) into some kind of seamless whole would set the groundwork for a new discipline (or area of enquiry) called ‘Employment Relations’ (Mortimer and Morris, 1995). Some of the justifications mooted for this integration include the evidence of the formation of the International Employment Relations Association, changes in the names of academic departments from Industrial Relations to Employment Relations, advertisements in the press for Employment Relations managers, and the publication of various textbooks on Employment Relations (Fastenau and Pullin, 1994). Yet both the argument for the use of pluralism, the conjoining of Industrial Relations and Human Resources Management, as well as the justifications offered for these actions are unsatisfactory. In the first case, the incorporation of pluralism implies that an ideology is being mooted as an organising principle for some form of objective study and secondly, the various organisational and academic manifestations of the relations people have in the workplace do not get at either the fundamental nature of, and sound explanations for, the work relations themselves. Moreover, such a framework would probably not offer explanations as to why work relations take the forms they do, nor offer any speculation as to how they might evolve in the future. It is essential that the bedrock of employment relations be understood and enunciated

50 Peter Slade

before further development by way of explanatory power and model building progress much further. In this article, the nature of ideologies will be examined in order that their importance within employment relations will be understood. Next, the shortcomings of the use of pluralism as an...
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