About three decades ago, everyone who had studied or not studied Industrial relations (IR) knew that it is all about the trade unions, collective bargaining and managers (Marsden, 1982). However, there have been more recent attempts that try to explain the objective of IR where they are following a similar track defining it as a study of employment relationship. This is usually the case as researcher such as Kaufman (2004) defines IR as the study of employment relationship as well as behaviours, practices, outcomes and institutions that emanate from the relationship.
It is worth noting that study of employment relationship represents the initial step where the next step involves identification of four elements which are actors, processes, outcomes and levels. Actors are the party to employment relationship and include workers, representative institutions such as trade unions and left political parties, employers, firm’s managerial representative as well as their collective organisations. The processes involve the way employment relationship is governed. Assessment of the outcomes of processes is also a great concern such as organisational commitment, job satisfaction, rates of productivity and profit all under social phenomena.
IR is also conducted at different levels which stretch from workplace to global (Blyton, Heery, Bacon, & Fiorito, 2008). Among the IR scholars, one of the dominant normative orientations is pluralism. It is a frame of references which consists of core beliefs in regard to the nature of employee relationship. These beliefs provide a standard for evaluation of IR practice as well as serving as a guide to development of policy advice which represent an important component of an applied field. This article involves an analysis of pluralism in reference to industrial relations by focusing on its challenges based on neo-liberalism conceptualisations of modern workplace.
It also analyses an example of a workplace change by use of neo-liberalism orientation which fits the change. Pluralism consists of five core beliefs in regard to the nature of employment relationship. First, the employment relationship holds two equally legitimate set of interests which are the interests of employers and those of employees. Second, while such interests are congruent in large degree, it is believed that there exists an irreducible core of conflict.
To be prepared to acknowledge that there are conflicting interests then accept that conflict expression is not pathological is a defining feature of IR. Third, there exists an imbalance of power in employment relationship. In addition, as workers depend on employers as a means of subsistence, it places them in a vulnerable position. Fourth belief is that work has the right to combine in various types of collectivism such as trade unions for accumulation of power, to provide counterweight to employer’s dominant position as well as pursuing their separate, legitimate interests.
Finally, collective organisation by employees and creation of a pluralist system of IR that is based on collective bargaining, trade unionism and regulation of conflicts serves the interests of employees and also the public interest. Thus is based on the belief that IR system successfully integrates working population into democratic societies (Blyton, Heery, Bacon, & Fiorito, 2008).