State intervention in industrial relations
Generally, state plays a dual role in industrial life as an employer as well as a mediator in the event of industrial conflicts. It is also capable of extending better industrial environment to the worker by ensuring fair wages, job security and good working conditions at workplace. Primarily, the relation is between worker and employer but such relation invariably involves the participation of the state. That means every industrial relations system involves three groups of actors, (i) Workers and their organizations, (ii) Managers/employers and their organizations; and (iii) Government agencies/machineries concerned with work community.
Industrial relations arise out of the prime economic relationship in society which is the buying and selling of labour power taking place in between the workers who own no other means of production and employers who are owners of capital. They belong to two great classes - capitalists (employers) and labourers (employees)--directly facing each other. The problems of industrial relations in industrial societies cannot be resolved permanently. A dynamic frictional conflict situation between labour and management are always prevailing in the field of industrial relations.
It is evident that government and state are closely related and government speaks on behalf of the state although the institutions--the government, the military and the police, the judiciary and parliamentary assemblies--make up the state and their interrelationships shape the form of the state system. The elaboration of state institution is directly commensurate and associated with the development of antagonistic class interests and their functions have always included the reinforcement of the system of class rule enshrined in the existing social order by suppressing disobedience by subordinate classes. Moreover, the nature of the state is most significant in determining the legal environment within which industrial relations function.
At present, the state performs an increasingly important role as an active factor in economic life. However, today's state deals with labour-management relations directly or indirectly as any other private entrepreneur does. The recent tendency to develop, under-developed and developing economies along planned lines usually helps the state overcome the open and sharp conflicts between workers and their employers. Needless to say, the state has always the provision to set up a legal and administrative framework like collective bargaining conciliation, arbitration and adjudication for the peaceful settlement of disputes among employers and workers.
Labour and capital, represented by trade union leaders and management respectively, are two vital factors in the industrial arena. By definition, their interests are opposed to each other but opposition might be reduced in order to obtain a reasonable working relation between them. The state can also be considered as an actor within industrial relations performing a number of distinct roles. It acts as a third-party regulator promoting a legal framework which institutes general ground rules for union-management interaction, particularly in the modality of collective bargaining.
All modern states try to fix the rules of the game by, specifying tactics like collective bargaining conciliation, mediation, arbitration and adjudication with a view to facilitating the settlement of industrial dispute. The role of the state as a direct participant in industrial relations is more conspicuous in the public sector than anywhere else, where it is the state's additional responsibility to oversee the smooth running of the bargaining machinery because of its acceptance of the onerous duty of employership.
So the state may also be identified as a regulator of minimum wages of labour. Sometimes the government resorts to the expediency of monetary doles to workers in order to have the uncomfortable results of collective agreements modified or to diffuse tensions there from. This, in turn, affects the wage structure of the private sector as it must confirm to the pay guidelines set by the government.
In capitalist societies, state intervention maintains impartiality and handles industrial relations in proper way. It normally functions as the check-and-balance mechanism in the relations between workers and employers so that a steady economic growth is sustained in the interest of both capital and labours. To minimize industrial disputes, state intervene in numerous ways varies from non-judicial to judicial methods of dispute settlement. But, in least developed countries and developing countries, the state does not maintain neutrality in dealing the maters of industrial relations. Most of the times, they take sides with capital in times of crisis and thereby the interest of the working class of constantly thwarted by a vicious cycle.
The modern states are expected to perform the role of mediators in between labour and management so that neither party can disturb the fabric of capitalism. Where the state is also the employer, its involvement in labour-management relations becomes more direct and comprehensive. It has to deal with labour unions through management with a view to bring down (a) the discontent and militancy of labour (b) the incidence and impact of strike and thereby to improve productivity and profitability of the industry concerned. State has also to ensure better life and democratic right to worker.
The political divisions among the workers have developed a culture in the field of trade unions. As a result, any move towards the formation of common platform of workers at national level has been disturbed. Moreover a drama of shifting political allegiance has brought the situation to such a pass that the trade union leaders are now habitually drawn towards the ruling party, whatever it is.
State intervention in industrial relations is not new in the world but the history of state intervention in industrial relations in Bangladesh is one of fluctuation between civilian and military regimes. Military regimes are more regressive than their civilian counterparts in order to exercise control over labour and their unions and the government try to occupy as many workplace unions as possible within the shortest possible time. As a result the labour union is found to be anemic, devoid of true democratic values and anarchic without a vision.
Even some CBA labours gradually forget their duties and responsibilities as workers' representative and protectors of workers interests. Most of the times labour movement ends with a whimper rather than a bang, and it is the leaders who reap benefits from it. Thus the future of the country's labour movement, as it is, is bleak.
Mohammad Abdul Mannan is Deputy Director, Public Relations and Right to Information, University Grants Commission of Bangladesh