In recent times, the role and function of trade unions have come under the microscope. There are those who argue that trade unions have lost their way. This is one of those subjective points of views that are often thrown around, and often conveniently so by those who have their own reasons for projecting this opinion.
Trade unions have always been defiant organizations. They have always been seriously challenged and have been forced in some instances to regroup and come back with vigour. History will reflect that right across the globe, the trade union movement has always been faced with resistance from employers where they have sought to organize workers.
The relationship between trade unions and employers has over time been primarily based on negotiation and or bargaining, as it relates to conditions of service and increases in wages and salaries. Let’s examine the pros and cons of the relationship.
Employers are often resistant to the organization of their employees, since the belief is held that this gives the individual trade union a foot in the door, having established a bargaining unit. It is not uncommon for some employers to dissuade workers from joining a union.
This runs contrary to the accepted practice in British Commonwealth countries, where democracy is endorsed and the constitution of the land provides for freedom of association. While this is so, employers who retain their right to hire and fire, sometimes find innovative ways to ensure that their employees remain non-unionized.
In Barbados, the attempt to have a Trade Union Recognition Act is yet to see the light of day. In the meantime, those employers who are minded that they are not obligated by law to engage with trade unions, are able to stave off the establishment of a bargaining unit in their enterprises. It therefore follows that any relationship with the trade union in seeking to represent the interest of employees at any private sector enterprise, is more likely to be at the discretion or accommodation of the employer.
In charting the way forward in building the relationship between the employer and labour, inclusive of government as an employer, dialogue, consultation and collaboration have been accepted as the preferred option. This approach has been promoted by the International Labour Organization.
This new relationship approach is expected to work where employers are prepared to be open, willing to share information with the trade union leadership and include the workers in the decision making process.
It is very unlikely that employers and workers would share the same interests. Employers are primarily interested in the bottom line, while employees are concerned with being treated fairly, engaged and empowered. These are ideals which are desirable, but are unlikely to be fully realized as the two parties often run at odds in attaining their respective mission, goals and satisfying their intentions.
It is now a common global trend which sees trade unions and employers entering into a new arrangement that allows them to move beyond the negotiating of conditions of service and wages salaries, to placing a focus on socio-political problems and broader welfare issues. This is an interesting development which although welcomed by trade unions cannot be blindly entered into.
The opening up of relations between labour and capital, where there is an embrace of consultation and dialogue, provides the opportunity for a host of non-governmental organizations to enter into the mix; albeit that this would exist at various levels in the system of governance and management.
It is important that trade unions concern themselves with who sets the agenda, and to carefully determine the agenda items which they are prepared to follow. Nothing should be entered into without giving due and careful consideration to the pros and cons, the advantages and consequences.
In the development of the new labour and private sector alliance, there ought to be some consideration given to whether the parties share the same ideological perspectives, and to identifying the best ways to establish a continued working relationship, so that they may not be accused of entering into a marriage of convenience.
(Dennis DePeiza is a labour management consultant with Regional Management Services. Website:: www.regionalmanagementservicesinc.com;