ID The pluralist sees the relationship between
ID Number10224242Question:Pluralist approach to Industrial RelationsWord Count:2621 The field ofemployment relations is mostly defined by the interactions and relationsbetween different elements of the labour market. To this end, the theory andpractice of industrial relations has received much attention, and is an areawith numerous components worth discussing. One of these is the pluralistapproach to industrial relations. This paperwill discuss the advantages and disadvantages to interpreting industrialrelations exclusively in pluralist terms. First, a review comparing pluralismand unitarism is presented, followed by a discussion of the dominance of thepluralist theory.
In 1966,Professor Alan Fox published his theory on Industrial Sociology and IndustrialRelations (Fox, 1966). In doing so, he introduced the different approaches toindustrial relations. Fox emphasizes the possibility of understanding IndustrialRelations in one of two ways. Either the pluralist view, where a relationshipbased on negotiation and exists to please different independent groups whomight have different interests and values; or the unitarist view, where arelationship based on social values exists to please individuals with unitedinterests and goals (Cradden, 2011). Later in 1974, Fox included in his bookBeyond Contract a third approach, the radical view, which highlights theillegitimacy of the employment relationship between managers and workers. Accordingto this approach the employment relationship exists only to empower and pleasethe controlling group by taking advantage of imbalanced labour markets. The radicalapproach highlights the need for strong trade unions that will bring change andsocial justice to the labour markets and improve the workers position in acapitalist system. However, and unlike the pluralist approach, the radicalapproach consider legislation and state intervention actions might be for thebenefits of the employers and interests of management, and don’t necessarilybalance between competing groups, therefore, and taking the radicalist viewinto considerations, the pluralist approach is seen as supporting capitalism.
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Thedifferences between those approaches is stark. The pluralist sees therelationship between managers and employees as a strategic contractual relationshipbetween parties with different interests and possibly competing values, whichcan be the main barrier to create a common goal or one social group for all. Therefore,employment relations are based on conflict, negotiation and bargaining, and anycooperation that does occur is only when participants have a mutual need toachieve a certain objective or to maintain coherent relationships. The unitaristson the other hand consider employment relations to be the relationships betweenmembers of a social group who share a common goals and objectives, andcooperate to achieve these objectives (Cradden, 2011). Theseapproaches to industrial relations cannot be considered simultaneously.
That isdue to two serious dilemmas that need to be addressed. The first, using Cradden’s(2011) terms, “the simple distinction between unitarist and pluralist frames ofreference does not adequately cover the variations in perspective that exist inpractice”. The radical approach on the other hand has the same perspectiveregarding the urgent need to balance the power between owners/managers andworkers.
However, those approaches differ when it comes to the pay of workersand what is perceived to be a fair wage. Another challenge is the lack of coordinatedaction and vagueness of ways of formal and informal interactions between theframe of references to industrial relations. Earlyinstitutionalists like Sidney and Beatrice Webb agree with the pluralistemphasis on the need for trade unions and the effects of collective bargaining.After they noticed the labour challenges and problems of the early twentiethcentury, they argued that the cause of the majority of these problems was dueto the imbalance of power between employers and employees (Kaufman, 1997). Thisimbalance of powers was a result of market imperfection. Theoretically and fromthis point of view, trade unions and government regulations are seen as a wayof bringing both employees and employer to a middle ground. When comparingclassic and modern pluralist, we find the former approaches the issue within industrialrelations as a response to the increase in numbers of workers and therefore theindustrial working class.
This in turn emphasized the need for institutionaldevelopment to allow and increase workers’ integration into sophisticatedeconomies and developed societies (Kaufman, 2004). However, duringthe past few decades, pluralist scholarship faced a number of challenges in theneoliberalist era. For the sake of adaptation, classic pluralism as we know it wassubstituted by a modern version better designed and fitted for the modernday (Heery, 2016). One of the major changes between classical and modernpluralism is modern pluralism deepened its focus on disturbed markets ratherthan workers individually. In the UK,the pluralist approach was and remains the popular frame when analysingemployment relations in the academic field of industrial relations. Given thepopularity of this approach, this dominant frame of reference to industrialrelations invites critical questioning. The following section examines theeffects of adopting purely the pluralist approach to the theory and practice ofindustrial relations in comparison to other approaches.
One of thekey features of the pluralist approach to industrial relations in the beliefthat both employees and employers are two independent parties with differentinterest and values. However, and as initially highlighted by Budd (2004), the employee’sinterests will revolve around equity and voice. Equity isthe employment practices outcomes that are perceived as fair and applicable. Forexample, personal treatment, safe working environment, non-discriminationpractices and material results such as income. This can be provided by theemployer or through the relevant regulations of the government. Voice is theability to participate and influence the decision-making processes and accessto relevant information and can only be achieved through work participation.
Equity andvoice can have competing objectives in industrial relations. For example,collective bargaining may be successful with establishing minimum wagestandards, but on the account of professional status and rank. According to thefindings of Card and Krueger (1995) this action can prove disadvantageous for employeesand can place employers in a overly strong position. They argue minimum wage lawscan skew the labour market by creating imperfect competition, developing in theprocess a combination of time-consuming and expensive job searches, decreasing mobilityand erecting informational limitations that place employers in a more powerfulposition. This suggests these opposing interests between employer and employeeswill be the fuel for ongoing conflict in an imbalanced labour market where bothsides do not possess the same access to information or power. Pluralists respondby arguing that both managers and workers will be also interested in asustainable and continuous relationship. Furthermore, with the independence ofboth parties, there will be mutual ground for negotiating and resolving arisingconflicts (Budd et al, 2004). This is because according to pluralists, it is thevery absence of equity and voice that generates the need for industrialtensions.
The existence of imperfect markets and workers generates a need almostimmediately for equity and voice to create a perception of fairness betweenemployees. Workers who do not have access to information of the decision-makingprocess are more likely to perceive the whole system as unfair and inapplicable.If workers noticed a lack of effort in addressing these imbalances, they willlose their trust in the system, which can consequently lead to a drop inperformance. These findings are not unprecedented.
In fact, there is extensive researchregarding equity and voice in the employment relations. One of the aims of pluralistindustrial relations is to balance the interests of workers and managers byapplying the analytical findings of such research (Budd et al, 2004). The pluralist approach emphasizes the entitlement of workersas individuals and as citizens in a democratic community. They demonstrate thebasic right of workers to better treatment in the working place, where theirdignity is being respected and regarded. For example, granting a fair livingwage as well as autonomy (Bowie, 1999). As citizens living and working in a developedand democratic society, employees should be eligible to have a voice, in whichthey can participate in the decisions that might have an effect on their lives(Adams, 1995).
However, pluralists also respect capitalism and support thedesire of managers to make profits. As a result, it can be challenging to builda stable bridge addressing the varying competing interests. Pluralistsrecognize the imbalance of powers in industrial relations. They see workersplaced in a disadvantaged position in their relationship with management, whichis the reason behind pluralism’s emphasis on collective bargaining and call forregulation, to ensure workers are protected and practising their right tonegotiate, especially in the case of different interest between managers and workers(Heery, 2016). Another key feature of the pluralist approach toindustrial relations is “balancing competing interest in the employmentrelationships” (Budd et al, 2004). A democratic industrial relation requiresconsideration and protection of all interests, whether it was the employer, theemployee or even the consumers (Webb and Webb, 1897). By evaluatingemployment relations as a set of competing interests we can come to theconclusion that the effects of human resources practices on worker andorganizational performance are equal.
Especially when the workers are the firstto receive directly the effect of the changes in human resources practices andpolicies. Therefore, profits and productivity cannot be the only indicators todetermine how successful such practices are. This framework of competinginterests in the research on high performance practices predicts that performancepractices that balances the interests of the employers and employees will tendto be more successful and reflect better results, while those objectives who donot balance both interests will be more likely to fail (Delaney and Godard2001). Oneof the fundamentals of the pluralist approach is that regulating andrepresenting employment relationship can be serving both the interests of employersand employees. Pluralist argue that in cases where either is missing, allparties will be affected by negative results and unpleasant outcomes. Ifemployees perceive management practises and decision making to be unfair andinapplicable, especially when those decisions are not regulated by law or a priorcollective agreement, and if at the same time those employees did not have acollective representation to deliver their voice, it could lead to a drop inemployee performance and therefore, the overall performance of the institution (Heery,2016).
Streeck (1997) sees regulation as a positive practice in employmentrelations. He argues that it requires managers to improve their managementskills and widen the area of shared interests. Pluralist industrialrelations can also make a meaningful contribution to a better understanding ofhow to enhance and improve individual and institutional performance byharmonizing interests (Osteman 2000), which can result in a higher productivityand profits. Moreover, pluralists have identified two different forms ofefficiency: allocative and real (Meltz, 1989). Allocative efficiency is definedas the technical knowledge and procedures required to improve and maximize results.Therefore, in order to improve real efficiency, pluralists argue thatallocative efficiency can be enhanced by supporting employee’s interests, instillinga sense of fairness, voice and security and maximizing the real efficiency asan outcome (Olson, 2000). Accordingto classical pluralists, the more advanced and industrialized a state becomes,the more likely that industrial relations will be based around trade unions andrelations with them (Kaufman, 2004). This general understanding of industrialrelations continues to show in the modern pluralist approach.
In this statement,we find three key assumptions which deserve critical review. The first is thelink between the rise of industrial relations and the economic development ofthe associated society, which suggests that progress is slow and measured by definedperiods. The second assumption is that change is initiated and based purely on aneconomic basis.
Last, there is an assumption that these factors exist andoperate identically across all developed societies (Heery, 2016). Whenreviewing the theory, in comparison to critical industrial relations, pluralistindustrial relation research views workplace conflict as caused by external factors(Dunlop, 1993). Class-based conflict is not recognized. This is different from theMarxist view of industrial relations, and because pluralists embrace conflictarising from different and mixed motives, suggesting class is actually not acritical concept in pluralist industrial relations (Levine 1995). Another theoretical element of the pluralist approach toindustrial relations is looking at individuals from a human or behavioral perspective,instead of a purely commodity-based economic perspective (Budd, 2004).
Pluralistsrecognize the difference in individual traits, emotions, needs and interests. Thisapproach therefore suggests that employees’ interests may vary and can be complicated,and satisfying all these desires and interests can be challenging. For example,according to Hodson (2001) employees could desire to be respected at work,working in a positive environment, and avoiding insults.
It can be the abilityto participate and influence the decision-making process (Freeman and Rogers,1999), or improving performance through access to self-developmentopportunities, leading to professional satisfaction and self-actualization(Kaufman 1993). This also raises questions as to the nature of the code ofconduct between management and staff, and how workers should be treated (Webband Webb, 1897). Hence the emphasis behind granting employees better workingconditions and practicing their right to participate in the decision-makingprocess (Budd, 2004). Some researchers criticize some of the features of thepluralist approach. Wheeler (1985) for example argues that when decisions are usuallymade by employees and employers, there is a chance that not all these decisionsare being considered on a rational and reasonable basis.
As an example, disappointmentand frustration can lead to strikes, which can change the course of certaindecisions. Compulsory comparisons can play a role in changing wage outcomes inan unpredictable way (Ross 1948), and complexity might cause the creation ofdomestic labor market conflicting with competitive forces (Lester, 1988). Fox later cameto the conclusion that with employment conflicts, the pluralist approach can besometimes more of a problem than a solution.
He questioned the values adoptedin the pluralist approach to industrial relations and the purpose it serves (Fox1974, 272). This was in agreement with Gomez and his co-authors arguing why balanceis best, where they also questioned the rules of interaction between managersand workers, and allocation of resources (Budd et al, 2004). Thepluralist approach to industrial relations produced a theory of negotiationsand competing values and interests between employers whose interests can becost reductions related (Barbash, 1984) and the employees whose interests revolve around ‘equity, efficiency, and voice'(Budd, 2004). Those competing interests are addressed by collective bargainingand negations under the mutual interest of both the workers and managers in a continuousconstructive relationship. Whilethe pluralist approach to industrial relations is only a theory, it provides atestable and verifiable assumptions regarding the relationship between twoopposing parties, behaviours and outcomes. Realistic experimental analysis is acore part of the pluralist approach to industrial relations paradigm, and suchanalysis is needed (Manning, 2003).
This is because employment relationsoutcomes cannot be fully determined only by counting solely on economic inputsin a competitive market. Ackers(2002) argues that modern pluralism offers a refreshing perspective to renewthe classical industrial relations society. According to him modern pluralismis able to do so by trying to link the old pluralist frame of reference to the concernsand questions raised by modern developed society. Pluralists call for ethicalfoundations of institutional policies. Moreover, modern pluralism can providean initial vision and guide of how society, work and employment should becarried forward, and can also provide a critical social philosophy which canserve as a base for arising questions that needs to be addressed regardingcurrent practices in businesses and labour markets. And finally modern pluralismcan rationalize industrial relations’ desire and call for trade unions andlegislations. References Ackers P (2002) Reframing employment relations: Thecase for neo-pluralism.
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