What is Industrial Relations?

Industrial Relations (IR) is the study of the laws, conventions and institutions that regulate 'the workplace'. It is a fundamentally important aspect of our way of life, our culture and our society.

Industrial relations means different things to different people. The following illustration depicts how IR shapes our working life, our society and the national economy.

perspectives of industrial relations

What is industrial relations from a Worker's Perspective?

As workers, we associate Industrial Relations with Unions, Industrial Awards, and labour laws that set the conditions under which we work. This includes our pay, safety, employment security and opportunities for training. 150 years ago people worked 6 days a week, 12 hours a day or more, and there were no provisions for sick pay or holiday pay. There was no protection for children who were often a form of cheap labour, or worse, were sold into slavery. As a society we have come a long way since, and this is largely due to the formation and actions of labour unions.

What is industrial relations from an Employer's Perspective?

The modern day employer attaches great importance to maintaining good industrial relations as a cornerstone of business growth and success. Industrial relations, for the employer, is about negotiations between workers and business owners/managers that lead to increased productivity and improved product quality in exchange for better pay and conditions of employment for workers. These negotiations between business owners/managers and their workers is often referred to as enterprise bargaining. The reduction of conflict between workers and business management is also a highly desirable objective in Industrial Relations.

What is industrial relations from a Society Perspective?

Whether we have good jobs and how we work has a fundamental effect on the quality of our lives. Unemployment causes social isolation and economic deprivation. When there is high levels of unemployment, there is social tension and upheaval. Too much employment has its own set of woes. People who work long hours often suffer from health issues and family problems. There is a need to strike a work-life balance to ensure a healthy, happy and productive populations.

What is industrial relations from a Government Perspective?

Industrial relations is a major factor in managing the economy. As a nation we compete in the global marketplace for goods and services. If the workforce is inefficient and wage demands are too high, then the cost of our goods and services is greater and consequently we are less competitive in the global marketplace (see more about Globalisation). Governments create laws and policies that affect Industrial Relations and thereby influence the pay and conditions of work for workers.

(C) Leo Isaac 2010


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