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Conflict resolution

Conciliation (mediation) and arbitration

Conciliation and arbitration are methods of resolving collective disputes in industrial relations. If the parties to a dispute cannot solve it alone, they may use the services of an independent mediator. Most countries will have an organisation (often sponsored or supported by government), which will act as an independent conciliators and arbitrator to resolve disputes.

The advantages of conciliation and arbitration are:

  • Making negotiations less confrontational
  • Improving communications between the parties
  • Defusing disagreements as early as possible
  • Accepting external assistance to solve the dispute

With conciliation, an independent and impartial outsider discusses the issues in dispute with the parties involved. This is sometimes done separately, sometimes together, with a view to coming up with a solution that both can accept. If the parties can be persuaded to meet and talk, they may find a resolution to their dispute. Conciliation is voluntary. Sides to the dispute have to agree to conciliation before it can happen. The conciliator has no power to impose a solution, but aims to assist the parties to reach a settlement of the dispute.

With arbitration the disputing parties agree to the appointment of an independent arbitrator and accept that the arbitrator's decision will be final. Indeed both parties normally accept that the judgment is legally binding and sign a contract to that effect. The arbitrator acts like a judge, listening to the arguments from both sides, accepting written and oral and written evidence and hearing forms of testimony. The following types of arbitration exist:

  1. Binding arbitration: This may be part of a disputes procedure, where the parties have stated that in the event of a failure to agree, they will appoint an arbitrator as a means of settling the dispute.
  2. pendulum.pngCompulsory arbitration: This is generally associated with state involvement in dispute settlement. The government may provide that in the case of disputes in certain essential industries, the parties may not take any form of industrial action, but must accept arbitration.
  3. Pendulum arbitration: Here, the arbitrator is restricted to find totally in favour of one of the disputing parties with no option of finding a compromise. An essential hypothesis underpinning this form of arbitration is that, being an "all or nothing" situation, the parties will adopt more realistic positions, rather than setting out a more extreme position. Since the parties should be brought close by this process that they may prefer to settle rather than be seen to lose at arbitration. This form of arbitration is most commonly associated with single union agreements, no-strike agreements and aspects of flexibility.
  4. Unilateral arbitration: This is a mechanism which allows one or other party to request arbitration without there being a requirement that the other party must agree.

Employee participation and industrial democracy

Employee participation is a generic term for all forms of employee involvement in decision-making within an enterprise or institution and is part of empowerment in the workplace.

Individual employees are encouraged to take responsibility for quality in terms of carrying out activities, which meet the requirements of their customers. Employees are trusted to make decisions for themselves and the organisation, which as we have seen from our examination of higher order needs is a key motivational tool.

Employee participation can take many forms:

  • Project teams or quality circles in which employees work on projects or tasks with considerable responsibility being delegated to the team.
  • Suggestion schemes where employees are given the opportunity to suggest new ideas and improvements to managers. In return they may receive a reward if their suggestion is adopted and the organisation makes savings. Every year since the 1970s, Toyota has received over a million suggestions from its employees. Over 80% of these ideas were implemented.
  • Consultation exercises and meetings where employees are encouraged to share ideas.
  • Delegation of responsibility within the organisation.
  • Multi-channel decision making processes. In such situations decisions are not only made in a downward direction, they also result from communications upwards, sideways, and in many other directions within the organisation.
  • Kaizen or continuous improvement programmes.

No-strike deals

Traditionally this term used to describe a collective agreement which specified that industrial action, such as a strike, should not take place unless the disputes procedure had been fully exhausted.

More recently the term has taken on a more literal meaning. A no-strike agreement is now often taken to refer to an agreement which completely rules out the taking of industrial action. In its place there is usually a suggested method of dispute resolution, such as arbitration. Japanese organisations pioneered this approach and 'exported' it when they set up branches and subsidiaries in other countries. Such agreements are still comparatively rare, but there are increasing in number.

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ACAS in talks with employers to avoid Olympics disruption

A no-strike agreement from organisations providing transport and other services during the London Olympics in 2012 could be finalised within months.

Peter Harwood, chief conciliator at ACAS said that the mediator has been working with various employers and organisations to agree special procedures to prevent damaging strike action during the Olympics.

Single union agreements

A single-union agreement gives one trade union sole bargaining rights in respect of all employees in an organisation. That trade union is the only one recognised by the employer in question. Procedures such as those relating to discipline and grievance may also be agreed at the same time and may be associated with no-strike agreements.

A single union deal offers managerial advantages in terms of a simplifying collective bargaining because managers only have to negotiate with the representatives of a single union. It also reduces competition between different unions, which can result in demarcation disputes, where unions try to protect their member's jobs by insisting other union members cannot carry out the functions associated with the job.

A number of unions have signed single union deals although competitor unions are often unhappy about loss of actual or potential negotiating rights.



Unorganised action

Unorganised action by employees might show itself as all the following EXCEPT:

Yes, that's correct. Well done. This is part of an official action and must pass through the agreed procedures. The others are all ways in which unorganised or unofficial action could arise.No, that's not right. The correct answer is D as this is part of an official action and must pass through the agreed procedures. The others are all ways in which unorganised or unofficial action could arise.Your answer has been saved.
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Internal dissatisfaction

A firm facing internal dissatisfaction would probably NOT:

Yes, that's correct. Well done. All of the others would be effective ways of addressing dissatisfaction amongst employees.No, that's not right. The correct answer is C all of the others would be effective ways of addressing dissatisfaction amongst employees.Your answer has been saved.
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