by Andrea Vavruch on 01/12/11 at 11:57 am
While most people are familiar with the concept of human resources management (HRM), and many companies have an internal HR department, not everyone understands where labour relations (LR) fits in. Here is a brief explanation of what LR is and how it relates to HRM.
What is HRM?
Human resources management is, in the simplest terms, the management of the relationships between all people employed in an organisation and the structures, systems and context in which they operate.
An HR manager aims to improve employee satisfaction and overall productivity in the company, while trying to reduce staff turnover. He or she is responsible for making sure that employees are well suited to their positions, that they have the opportunity to reach their full potential and are performing well, and that they are being treated fairly. He or she must be able to see the big picture (the organisation’s policies and strategic objectives) as well the details (each employee’s suitability for and fulfilment in his or her position).
HRM is a broad spectrum that requires people to consider a complex range of fields including psychology, efficiency, communication, occupational health and safety, and legality. An HR manager’s duties may concern job profiling, recruitment, training and development, employee health and wellness, performance management, and compensation and benefits.
What is LR?
Labour relations, previously known as industrial relations, is one aspect of HRM. While HR involves the general management of employment relationships, LR looks specifically at the legal aspect of the relationship between employers, employees (represented by their union leaders) and the state (in the form of labour legislation). As such, LR depends very much on an excellent knowledge of labour law. Depending on the size of the organisation and its line of work, this field may be the responsibility of the HR manager, the domain of a dedicated LR specialist, or outsourced to an independent labour lawyer.
Where there is an employment relationship of any form, LR comes into play. More specifically when employers and employees need to negotiate employment contracts, or when one party feels that some clauses of the contract are not being met by the other party.
The laws, rules, policies and procedures that inform the employment relationship must be honoured by both sides of the agreement, and when one party feels that the other is not meeting the requirements of the contract, there may be a dispute. A dispute could arise with regards to pay, working hours, discrimination, harassment or health hazards in the workplace.
Ideally, an organisation will have a policy of open communication where employees feel comfortable raising any grievances and where they can be sure that the issue will be dealt with effectively. However, at times, employees do not feel free to discuss these concerns with their superiors or they feel that not enough is done by management or the HR department to find a satisfactory solution. In these cases, the employee may need to need to take further action, and may involve his or her union. This could lead to a dispute being lodged, possibly resulting in strike action or some other formal dispute resolution and collective bargaining, and in such events an LR specialist is essential.
LR is also coming to be known as employment relations, a term that reflects the pervasiveness of this field. It affects everyone who is in an employment relationship – whether as an employer or an employee, whether in industry, civil services, a corporate environment or academia.
If you have a Manager or you have people working under you, you need to be up to date on labour relations.
Andrea Vavruch is a member of the academic department of GetSmarter, a high-touch online education company. GetSmarter works together with University of Cape Town to present short courses in small business, internet marketing and much more. View more articles by Andrea Vavruch.