Interaction between workers and their employers is not devoid of conflict. However, collective bargaining is the tool used to resolve amicably contending labour issues between employees and their employer. Contrarily, rather than have smooth labour-management relations via collective bargaining, conflicts have continued to characterize labour-management relations in African, especially in Nigeria. Sadly, the present democratic regimes have witnessed series of industrial unrest now than ever before.
Conflict: Concept, Process, and Issues
Conflict is defined by interest, values and psychological disposition. More often than not conflict is a mixture of all three, although, in some instance they may vary (Chalant 2001: 473). Conflict can be understood and better appreciated drawing from the following pluralist, (industrial relations and political exchange), unitary, radical, transaction cost economics and theory of labour regulation (Edwards 2001) perspectives.
Like the other prevailing pattern of conflict that has characterized Nigerian political spheres, industrial relations conflicts have had its own fair share of influence on the system. Industrial conflict or trade dispute is a part of the general pattern of conflict in the polity. However, the term ‘industrial conflict’ is used in three main senses:
1) the use of overt sanctions, as when it is said that conflict erupts when workers go on strike;
2) a continuing sense of discord (‘conflict over new work rotas’); 3) an underlying conflict of interest between workers and manager that need receive no overt expression (Edwards 2001).
In the literature, there are varying perspectives to the causes of conflict; which are struggle over resources, psychological needs, values and the absence of information. It could occur at either inter-personal or inter-group or at both arenas. These causes of conflict have been captured in the conception of conflict by Loser (1968) as the struggle over values or clan to status, power and scarce resources in which the aim of the conflicting parties are not only to gain the desired values, but also to neutralize, ignore or eliminate their rivals.
The human relations view conflict as a vital element of social existence, inevitable and should be accepted, depending on how it is handled it could be destructive or productive. Conflict can be destructive when it is allowed to tear individuals, groups or society apart as a result of poor management, under this situation conflict is dysfunctional and should be discarded (Onyishi and Asogwa 2009: 252). The traditional approach of viewing conflict is that it is dysfunctional. It is a consequence of poor communication, a lack of
openness between people, and the failure of managers to be responsive to the needs and aspirations of their employees (Robbin and Judge, 2008: 486). Conflict could foster the building of better and stronger social ties among groups in society where the process of resolution and reconstruction is open, fair, truly accommodating
and integrative that it allows for group viability, self-critic and creativity. This perspective is anchored on the view of the interactionist who sees conflict as a normal process of interaction, especially in a plural society (Onyishi and Asogwa 2009: 252).
One important stroke in making conflict productive and less destructive is its quick and friendly resolution of the main contending issues that had generated the conflict situation.
The quick and amiable resolution of conflict is an essential element for better human relationship. It is the means to change, the means by which social values of welfare, security, justice, opportunities for personal development can be achieved (Burton 1972: 137). In this sense, conflict then is a dynamic process of social change reflecting the complex progression in the balancing and re-alignment of individual, group or societal interest. The obvious difference between societal conflict and organizational conflict is the violent character. Conflict is violent when it results in physically damaging or destroying the property and high-valued symbols of one another;
and or psychologically or physically injuring, destroying or otherwise forcibly eliminating one another (Sandole 1993 cited in Onyishi and Asogwa 2009: 252). It is an expression of deep sited resent for which genuine and peaceful avenue for dispelling it was not provided.
Concept of Industrial Relations
Public labour-management-relation is an engaging area of action as well as a sensitive aspect of interaction in the general gamut of interorganizational relations that is rooted in intergovernmental relations (Okoli and Akume 2011). Labour-management-relation is the process by which employers and unions negotiate pay, hours of work, and other conditions of employment. It is the process of determining how conditions of service are negotiated and agreed upon that allows the signing of contract governing such conditions for a specific period of times, shared responsibilities and the pattern of administering the resulting contract (Bartol and Martin 1998: 338) signed. Industrial or labour relations subsume the process of interest accommodation by which conditions of work are fixed; relations are regulated and power is shared in the field in the field of labour (Cordova 1980).
Generally, these processes describe all those activities which contribute both formally and informally to the organization of the relationship between employers and their employees (Cole 2006: 393). These activities are dictated by a tripartism-interaction between employers, workers and government (Ojo 1998: 82) to be effective and accepted. It is important to note that in both public and private organizations labour-management relations the one connecting element in the relationship is differences in the interest of the various actors. The interests of the different actors are most often than not conflicting for which compromises are constantly negotiated to generate agreement between actors so as to enable the relationship to transcend peacefully. In labour- management relations workers, managers, politicians and the public have a stake in the outcomes of public sector labour relation processes.
At issue for workers are pay levels and working conditions, for managers, workforce quality and the degree of authority wielded at
the work place, and for the politicians the support or opposition of an important constituency as well as the fiscal consequences of pay decisions. At issue for the public are jobs, tax rates related to decisions about public pay, and services quality as impacted by employee ability and motivation (Thompson 2007: 49).
Despite this divergence of interest between the tripartism, the interest of employer and employee are not necessarily hostile-that is what is good for one is necessarily bad for the other.
The causes of industrial or labour-management conflicts vary yet they combined to fuel trade dispute (Davar 1988; Ojo 1998: 124). In Most African organization and Nigeria, to be specific, some of the recent significant causes of trade dispute in recent times are: the demand for wage increase, the quest for better working conditions, poor consultation and involvement of labour unions on labour related issues by government, and the Trade Union Act of 2004. Others are the privatization policy of the federal government with implication for down-sizing with its resultant hardship on the larger population. The astronomic increase of the salaries and wages of politicians as compared to the paltry salary structure paid to civil servants is also one of the reasons for industrial relations conflict in Nigeria.
CHALLENGES OF INDUSTRIAL CONFLICT
Concerns for Industrial conflict cannot be limited to the maintenance of industrial harmony at enterprise level but also to prevailing issues of socioeconomic conditions prevailing in the country at the macro level. Industrial Relations systems and practices therefore must be directed towards responding major challenges surfacing in the new economic order. Healthy industrial
relation cannot be maintained unless broader developmental issues are addressed.
Some of the challenges impacting on Industrial Relation can be stated as follows:-
-lack of technological knows how
-poor judicial system
-poor conflict resolving mechanism
-lack of mediating parties.
PROSPECTS OF INDUSTRIAL CONFLICT
The prospect of industrial industrial can be numerous especially in trying to resolve it. Good industrial relations reduce the industrial disputes. Industrial relations has become one of the most delicate and complex problems of modern industrial society. Industrial progress is impossible without cooperation of labors and harmonious relationships. Therefore, it is in the interest of all to create and maintain good relations between employees (labor) and employers (management).Thus industrial relation measures followed should be given prime emphasis which may lead to an effective relationship between management and employees. An effective industrial relation results in the increase of the productivity of the organization. Better relationship between the employee and employer is very essential for successful running of any organization. Favorable relationship can avoid many adverse situations. With a huge manpower, Rourkela Steel Plant has taken every step to maintain a cordial relation. It has given a thrust on participation of employees through many forums – both traditional and revolutionary.
Structured Communication as an important vehicle for carrying the employees and management together has been adopted nicely by RSP to facilitate the flow of information, ensure employees commitment and involvement in all critical aspects of the operation. Of course there are many scopes for improvement. Both management and recognized union should come forward to restore the relationship of trust. The Joint for a need to be more effective. The management also needs to be more committed to implement the plans more properly.
The prevailing aim of industrial conflict is to espouse the spirit of peaceful relations between labour and management. This goal is achieved through the instrumentality of collective bargaining which avails the tripartism the opportunity for interest adjustment and compromise under an atmosphere devoid of imposition and trepidation. On the contrary, industrial or labour-management has reflected a pattern of relationship characterized by caginess and conflict with its resultant severe implications not only on the tripartism but the society as a whole. While there is plethora of reasons for unhealthy industrial relations significant among these reasons are the absence of integrity on the part of the government to respect the right moral rule of conduct of accepting and implementing jointly agreement, the bias in the pattern of state wage distribution and the unhealthy pattern of viewing labour union’s call for better working conditions.
The unimaginable difference in the wage and salary gap between political office holders and other appointees and those of public servants has been at the center of raising agitation by the latter for corresponding improvement in the wages of their members. This agitations and submission to the government to effect the change in the spirit that is emblematic of fairness and equity has continued to resonate on deaf state ears thus provoking labour to take the hard path of trade dispute via strike. This last action had forced the government to reconsider its position and follow the path of negotiation which saw the introduction of the new minimum wage law. Sadly, rather than for the government to abide by to demands of the new wage law, the government had resort schemes aimed at reneging on its obligations thus sparking off a renewed confrontation and labour unrest in Nigeria.
The flagrant disregard of the law by the government which it is suppose to uphold and protect calls to question government sincerity to promote labour-management working harmony inAfrica
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