INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: A CORE COMPETENCY – Pramod Mahatme

With the emergence of white collar unions and changing bargaining tactics, industrial relations assumes fresh significance for HR professionals

Industrial relations has lost its sheen probably because it does not get adequate focus in the organisation. Not many HR students from the premier institutes opt for this occupa tion and not many management institutions provide adequate focus on this competency and consequently, not many competent professionals are available in the field.

`Sustainable industrial relations’ has always been an area of concern for industry leaders and investors. This has also assumed greater importance in the context of the ambitious `Make in India’ programme through which the government hopes to make India a major hub for global manufacturing. Also, the reemergence of violence in industries makes the topic of IR all the more relevant for discussions and finding lasting solutions. Hence, it is time to realise that IR is one of the most important competencies for people managers.

The people management function was referred to as `Labour Relations’ in the 1960s, `Personnel Manage ment’ in the 1970s and as `Talent Management’ since the 1990s. Analysis will reveal that talent is about demand being more than supply and labour is about supply being more than demand. The pilots in India, in the year 2008 were talent hence, bargained individually to seek best personal gains, but with demand falling in 2009, the individual bargaining power collapsing and the job security getting threatened, they opted to get classified as labour to opt for collective bargaining and sought whatever statutory protection was available for the category called workmen under the ID Act. In collective bargain, the threat of a strike is leveraged to press for the collective demands, while individually, the threat of resignation serves the same purpose for individual demands.

Industrial relations is about collective bargain while talent management is individual bargain. Often, the term employee relations is used as if it is synonymous with industrial relations, but employee relations also is not about collective bargain although the subject here is operatives.Industrial relations is also the product of social economic and political realities, aspirations of their con stituents and the realities of their interdependence and it is not a product of chemistry alone between the leaders on either side.Whereas in case of employee relations or talent management, the issues get resolved at an individual level (although within the framework of policies of the organisation).

The IR competency is all about developing insight into the issues that influence and determine the industrial relations. It is about understanding the challenges faced by the business and the IR imperatives arising therefrom and closely aligning them with business strategies. It is about having a deeper understanding of how the social economic and political environment impacts IR and the constraints of the framework of the labour law within which one needs to operate.

One cannot completely insulate oneself from the realities in the country one operates in. The movement from individual to collective bargaining in any country at any moment in time gets shaped by the law that recognises and defines the rights of the union; the law that protects employment; resolves disputes; the level of social security and the ratio of demand and supply that will define an employee’s individual bargaining strength.

The bargaining power of the union stems from the dependence of the business on the given unit, from where the union operates.And its strength lies in the unity and the confidence the leadership enjoys of his constituents. The union is strong when its members stand united and the leadership is unopposed and the leaders get the ability to say yes. And it will be on a strong footing when the dependence on the unit is high. On the other hand, management will be able to operate from a position of strength and it will have the ability to take a firm stand and say no when its dependence on that unit is low.

IR competency is about realising that formation of the union is not an exhibition of strength and courage to revolt. The organisations which view it such, exhibit unhealthy reactions and create a riot-like situation. It is not the chemistry between the leaders, but the relative forces of interdependence which drive the relationship and build the bond.

Source : The Economic Times

Date : 9th June 2015

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