The current spate of industrial action called by trade unions to protest matters of interest to their membership is cause for serious concern by some sections of the community. The fact this is a frequent occurrence suggests there is an underlining problem which needs to be addressed.
Speculation could remain rife as to what is the cause, but what cannot be ignored is the fact industrial action is taken in order to press demands to have a legitimate grievance or outstanding matter addressed and resolved.
The general public is very often inconvenienced as a result of protest action taken. Strike action is usually feared by the public, as it tends to be disruptive. While this is understandable, the public has to be aware that it is one of those necessary evils.
The decision to take any form of industrial action is not done hastily and without careful thought and consideration. When it comes to taking a decision on strike action, this usually is the ultimate step in the process, where all other reasonable steps would have been explored to discuss and to resolve the matter at hand.
Workers are sometimes made to feel less than human beings when they are forced to take a form of protest action to vent their feelings, and press their demands to have the employer or management address their concerns and/or grievances. It is unfortunate when the public at large, inclusive of other workers, moves to condemn workers for standing up for their own rights.
The public’s ridicule in most cases is unjustified, especially when there is every indication the workers have had legitimate cause for taking a form of action.
In any society that supports individual human and workers’ rights, it would seem hypocritical that workers are subjected to ridicule when they have to stand up for fairness and justice. It is to be expected, where there is a collective bargaining agreement in place, that workers through their representative body will endeavour to enter into discussions or negotiations with the employer on matters. This is what the industrial relations process requires. If this is followed and no agreement or resolution can be found, it sometimes requires that force by way of industrial action is applied in order to get things moving along.
The promotion of dialogue and discussions are important to the collective bargaining process. Disrespect and disregard for the collective bargaining process is therefore a recipe for disaster. It is disgusting that management should refuse to engage with trade unions in undertaking to represent the interest of their members, and then expect that it will be business as usual.
On top of all this, it is disturbing when key persons in public life, including policymakers and lawmakers, join the bandwagon in attacking trade unions for exercising the responsibility with which they are charged, in representing and defending the rights and causes of their members. This is a phenomenon that characterizes the world and does little to inspire respect for the following of the industrial relations process.
The industrial relations process requires consolation and dialogue at all levels. It does in fact start with the membership of trade unions where the leadership engages with the membership in identifying an issue and receiving a mandate to pursue a particular course of action. The defining of strategies is often left to the better judgement of the leadership.
There is a need for the actors in the industrial relations arena to recognize the practice of industrial relations is not a game. If it is to work as designed, it requires that they recognize the principles of process and procedures are to be observed; and that meaningful dialogue holds the key to reaching amicable understandings.
(Dennis De Peiza is labour management consultant to Regional Management Services Inc.
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