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Essay: Employee Relations Perspectives: Pluralist, Unitary and Marxist

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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Employee Relations is the term used to define the relationship between employers and employees (https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/relations/employees/factsheet) Employee relations is the first point of contact for employees, supervisors or managers that have queries regarding workplace decisions, policy interpretations, and consultations on grievances, conflicts, problem resolution and issues of collective bargaining. (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/employee-relations.html)

In employee relations, there are three main perspectives: The Pluralist, the Unitary and the Marxist. Each perspective has a different understanding of conflict, the role of trade unions and job regulations.

Perspectives of Employee Relations

The Pluralist Perspective

The pluralist perspective is based on the organization being made up of a group of individuals with different views, interests and values and it is believed that each group has the right to exist. Each group competes which each other and no one group dominates because all are deemed equal in power. This can lead to conflict and because of this the organisation is of the impression that conflict is inevitable due to competing interests of employers and employees. With this theory, the organization is perceived to be made up of divergent sub groups – management and trade unions. Management have a right to disagree with their employees and the trade unions but it is managements role is to recognize and reconcile these competing goals by persuasion, coordination and bargaining. Trade Unions are perceived as legitimate, they have the right to exist and disagree with management. They are not seen as the cause of the conflict and are representative of employee interests. It is a belief of the pluralistic perspective to recognize that conflict cannot be avoided but if it is managed well conflict can help the organisation evolve.

Critique of Pluralistic Perspective

Pluralistic perspective believes that organisations are formed by people with different aims, interests and values which will distinguish each person yet, all parties have the same power and authority so no one party can dominate the others. This is strongly disputed. I am of the belief that management is stronger and more powerful than any other groups within the organisation due a variety of reasons.? (i.e. economic, legally, access to resources etc.).

In this perspective, it is known that conflict cannot be easily avoided and it is a result of competition between two groups. Conflict is perceived as normal in organisations who carry this perspective but the resolution of conflict is not as simple and straightforward as the pluralist thinking makes it out to be. Pluralism sees conflict as a straightforward set of processes that can be easily managed until a resolution is reached. This tends to make light of the nature of the conflict between management and employees, by displaying them as disputes between groups.




The Unitary Perspective

This perspective assumes that the organisation and all its employees and only concerned with the achievement of organisational goals. It believes in mutual corporation and harmony of interests between employee and employer. Individuals in the organisation become part of a team and everyone works towards the same objectives. The unitary perspective believes that conflict is avoidable and is generally down to lack of communication between employers and employees which enables the employee to substitute their own agendas instead of the organisations agenda. There is one source of authority and that is management. Management dominates all activities. Trade Unions are viewed as irrelevant and are an intrusion in the workplace, they create conflict where none would exist otherwise.

This perspective depends on management and employees sharing a common aim and objective which should lead to little or no conflict. An advantage of this perspective is that it inspires loyalty within the organisation. The role of the employee in the unitary organisation is to be loyal to management.

Critique of Unitary Perspective

Unitary Perspective has a narrow view on conflict. They assume that it arises over the temporary failure of management or as an act of defiance. They believe that conflict is not essential within the organisation and it generally arises due to lack of communication and failure of employees to understand the shared goals and objectives.

The unitary perspective does not account for uneven distribution of power among employers and employees in the decision-making process

The Marxist Perspective (Radical Perspective)

The Marxist perspective is concerned with the nature of the society surrounding the organisation. It assumes that the organisation exists within a capitalist society which means that managements role is to extract as much labour as possible whilst minimising costs. This perspective views that the society is made up of two classes – the employer as the capital and the employee as the labour. These two groups are locked in a zero-sum battle; what one group wins, another loses. (example: An increase in wages is a loss in profits) It is assumed that employers are more powerful than employees because they believe the organisation can survive longer without labour than the employee can without work. In the Marxist perspective, conflict is everlasting as it comes from the divide between the employers who seek to minimise cost and employees who seek a fairer wage for their labour. Trade Unions are recognised as a tool the employees use to counteract the power of the employers. Trade Unions focus on the expression and protection of employees’ interest and restraining the power of management. The role of the state in this perspective is to maintain the interests of the capital over the interests of the employees.

An advantage of the Marxist perspective is that Trade Unions are a vital part of the organisation, like pluralism, trade unions can challenge management or the employer. Conflicts can arise due to uneven distribution of income within the organisation which leads the employees to join unions whose sole purpose is to ensure that suppression of employees’ ideas and aspirations is prevented when they differ from the organisational goal. Another advantage of radicalism is that the state protects the interests of the capital while the unions protect the interests of the employees which leads to both achieving their objectives.

Critique of the Marxist Perspective

 The theory of the Marxist Perspective is relatively concerned and preoccupied with conflict but most organisations are amicable for long periods of time and conflict is not always apparent. The Marxist perspective obscures any cooperation or shared goals between the employee and employer.

The Marxist model also assumes that the state is an extension of the capital and that the will of the capital is turned into state priorities. This does not happen and what is often observed is the state imposing new rules and regulations on the capital, against the capitals will.

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