A look at industrial relations in transition

JOB SPECIFICS Industry relations managers, besides working with the union, also assist employees with licensing and help chart company benefits for employees. Healthy Industrial relations (IR) in business and industry are of vital importance for increasing productivity within the Indian job market. With change, the economic and cultural scenario of this century is going to be radically different. The changing industrial climate in terms of vision, value and mission dictate the norms of business ethics. There are changes in the nature of labour force, union approaches to management processes, physical and behavioural characteristics of internal forces — all affecting the strategies of an organisation.

Jobs in industrial relations focus on managing employment relationships. The term industrial relations is typically used in reference to unionised employment relationships, though the term has largely been replaced with employment relations, human resources or personnel. Regardless of the name used, the types of jobs in this field can be broken up into a variety of categories. Industrial Relations jobs may manage relationships with union employees, which often have different considerations than jobs that manage non-union employees. Depending on the industry, an industrial relations position may be office-based or much of the work may be conducted in the field. These jobs may also vary based on the types of employees managed — professionals or trade workers — and they may vary, based on the focus of the work — compensation & wage administration, benefits, PMS or recruitment.

Early industrial relations careers had their roots in unionised settings and focused on the implementation of unions, and employee safety and fair labour practices and policies. Modern industrial relations jobs may also focus on the employment relationships between union workers and employers, but other industrial jobs manage working relationships outside of an organised labour union. The primary difference between these two types is the different mechanisms by which conflicts are managed and changes are implemented. Union employees are typically protected by a detailed set of procedures spelled out in the labour contract and therefore industrial relations jobs in a unionised setting require a good working knowledge of labour-union relationships generally, and the specific collective bargaining agreement in force.

Non-unionised industrial relations jobs may have the opportunity to easily implement new programmes like performance management, recognition and retention programmes.
Industrial relations jobs are typically located in an office setting, although in some companies, these staff members may be located near or on the production floor. Close proximity with the work often helps the industrial relations officer/ manager to stay engaged with employees and managers. All successful industrial relationships managers, whether they work on the production floor or in an office, usually have excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

Jobs in this field may also vary based on the type of employees involved. Aside from the union distinction, trade workers may require different types of assistance than licensed professionals. Licensed professionals such as attorneys or physicians, for example, may need assistance keeping up on license requirements. Additionally, salaried professionals will require help on the different compensation and benefits packages available.

The management of IR is evolving to be a part of an organisation’s strategic planning. Line manager will have to increasingly manage the industrial relations at the shop-floor and work places. Negotiating with unions — which essentially is an exercise in putting across the management's view point —will have to be a team effort wherein knowledge and expertise from all disciplines will have to be marshaled and presented in a unified manner.

Managers will have to speak with one voice and be ready to carry conviction where it is most difficult but most productive too. If we have to eliminate the unfortunate we-they situation that prevails between HR and line management, the interaction will have to come from the top management team so that sound HR management practices are seen as a total organisational commitment to the enhancement of human excellence.

This proves that industrial relations is the basis of higher production with minimum cost and higher profits. It also results in increased efficiency of workers. If the twin objectives of rapid national development and increased social justice are to be achieved, there must be a harmonious relationship between management and labour.

In a nutshell, there are a plethora of quality career options in Personal Management and Industrial Relations (PMIR) up for grabs for MBAs. India offers a number of options for MBA in HR/PM/IR. XLRI, TISS  and other premier institutes have been providing high quality management degrees in Human Resources/ Personnel Management/ Industrial relations consistently. If one were to chose an institute for MBA in HR, the options are MHROD, Management Development Institute and Xavier Institute of Social Service, or one could look at institutes like The Indian School of Business and Finance, (ISBF), which provides its Human Resources students an on-the-job-experience in some of the most coveted organisations for an entire six months time frame, so that students understand and explore the entire mainframe of such a multidisciplinary field.

(The author is the director of the Indian School of Business & Finance) 

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