Academic journal article IBAR

Developments in Industrial Relations and HRM in the Republic of Ireland

Academic journal article IBAR

Developments in Industrial Relations and HRM in the Republic of Ireland

Article excerpt


Using recent research data from the Price Waterhouse Cranfield Study this paper considers current developments in industrial relations at establishment level in the Republic of Ireland. Firstly, the nature and context of industrial relations is briefly sketched. Secondly, we examine the factors related to varying levels of unionisation, including non-union status. Thirdly, the relationships between unionisation and the use of HRM practices are evaluated and finally, we focus more closely on variations in employment practices between union and non-union firms and public and private sector firms.

The Price Waterhouse Cranfield Project on International Strategic Human Resource Management in Europe was originally established in 1989 to study developments in human resource management in Europe. In 1992 a postal survey of some 6000 organisations was undertaken in collaboration with a leading business school in some fifteen European countries. In the Republic of Ireland, the sample frame used for the Price Waterhouse Cranfield Project in Ireland was the Business and Finance list of the top 1000 trading companies and the top 500 non trading bodies in Ireland. In this sample frame organisations were ranked according to their level of turnover, financial institutions by the size of their asset base, and non trading bodies by the number of employees. The empirical component of the Price Waterhouse Cranfield Study was based on a postal questionnaire completed by management respondents in a representative sample of companies from the Top 1500 trading and non-trading organisations in the Republic of Ireland. A questionnaire addressed to either the chief executive or personnel manager was mailed to 1180 companies. A total of 269 usable questionnaires were returned, giving a response rate of 23%.(1)

The Nature and Context of Industrial Relations

At the workplace level, industrial relations practice in the majority of medium and large organisations in the Republic of Ireland has traditionally been associated with a strong collectivist emphasis (Roche 1990b). In this model, relations between management and employees are grounded in the pluralist tradition with a primary reliance on adversarial collective bargaining. This pluralist tradition is manifested in high levels of union density, developed collective bargaining institutions at establishment level and industrial relations as the key concern of the specialist personnel function (Gunnigle and Flood 1990).

As has been the case in the UK, the 1980s in Ireland was a period of considerable change in the environment and practice of industrial relations. From an employer perspective, the onset of recession lessened the emphasis on hitherto core workforce management activities such as recruitment and, particularly, industrial relations. Trade union membership fell significantly in the period 1980-1987 and industrial unrest also declined significantly over the decade (Roche & Larraghy 1989). At the same time, many organisations sought to establish competitive advantage through improvements in quality, service and performance. One source of such improvements has been an increased emphasis on the more optimal utilisation of human resources. Consequently, it would appear that there has been greater innovation in industrial relations practice, particularly in areas such as work systems, rewards, management-employee communications and employee development.

Trade Unions and Industrial Relations in Ireland

The role of trade unions is seen as a key indicator of approaches to, and changes in, industrial relations. This aspect incorporates both the extent of union recognition and, where unions are recognised, the nature of management-trade union relations. A particular issue in the context of evolving human resource management (HRM) styles concerns trade union recognition and the future role of collective bargaining. This section considers the findings of the Price Waterhouse Cranfield Project on the role and nature of unionisation among Irish organisations. …

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