Accueil » 37-1 ( 1982) » Les relations professionnelles et les défis des années 80

Les relations professionnelles et les défis des années 80

Francis Blanchard


Le directeur général du BIT évoque les différentes voies que devrait prendre la pratique des relations professionnelles pour s'adapter aux complexités de la prochaine décennie.


Industrial Relations and the Challenges of the 1980’s

The practice of industrial relations will need to adapt itself to the complexities of the present decade.

In the very first place, industrial relations Systems will have to adjust to the present socio-economic situation which is characterized by inflation, unemployment and recession. As a result of this situation, the number of conflicts between employers, workers and public authorities has increased and it has proved more difficult to reach consensus. Under these circumstances there is all the more room for collective bargaining, which is precisely a means of hammering out compromises. Collective bargaining is not only a matter of negotiation techniques but it is also — and perhaps more fundamentally — concerned with the quality of the relationship between groups and between people. The quality of this relationship depends itself in the first place on the sense of social responsibility of the parties involved. In our modemsocieties, public authorities have to play an increasing role in the elaboration and implementation of economic and labour policies. When the relationship between employers, workers and public authorities develops harmoniously, in a context of regular contact and mutual trust and respect, even the most difficult problems are much more likely to be solved. This kind of relationship is actually an application of tripartism, a guiding principle of the International Labour Organization based on concerted action by public authorities, employers and workers. In this respect it is encouraging to note that the governments of Canada and of other industrialized countries have become conscious of the "promotional" role they can perform to stimulate initiatives by the employers and workers in various areas such as for example the improvement of the working environment.

An important change in the level of education and in the consciousness of workers has determined demands for a more equal share in decision-making and, in turn, a multitude of different forms of what is generally termed "participation". Of the many possible forms of participation, collective bargaining is given considerable scope in Canada. However, the question may be raised as to whether collective bargaining is a sufficient means for providing workers with more satisfaction in their work, for improving the quality of life and for enhancing productivity and management efficiency. Other ways may have to be explored in the 1980s in order to reach these goals.

Labour-management relations in the public service is another area open to improvement in this decade. While almost everywhere public servants are accorded the right to organize, their right to bargain collectively is less widely recognized and is exercised more in practice than through right. On the other hand, the public sector has in recent years experienced the most rapid growth in unionization and some of the most difficult strikes that have been prominent in the public eye. The gap between reality and the law needs to be bridged. Canada was among the first countries to recognize the principle of collective bargaining in the public service at the federal level. The ILO, in a Convention on labour relations in the public service adopted in 1978, offers the choice between collective bargaining and other methods to involve public employees in the determination of employment conditions. This is an important step in the direction away from unilateral determination of employment conditions in the public service.

Another change in society which calls for an imaginative adjustment of industrial relations Systems is the rapid growth of the services sector and the relative decline in industrial employment. Micro-electronics and computer technology are even said to herald the appearance of a new "quaternary" sector. Industrial relations, on the other hand, bear the stamp of their genesis which was in the industrial sector. Therefore, while industry will continue to be an important source of employment, the style of industrial relations needs to be adapted to the changing complexities of society.

In developing countries, only a small minority of workers are covered by Systems of industrial relations. New institutions and procedures are needed to protect the hundreds of millions of men, women and children who live below the poverty threshold in rural areas and at the periphery of the large urban centres, in what is termed the "informal" sector. Minimal labour standards for these workers may be the next objective for the public authorities and public opinion. The ILO is playing a pioneering role both in employment creation and in labour protection for the informal sector. At the same time, a modem industrial sector is also developing in Third World countries at an impressive speed. The difficult world economic situation has more serious repercussions on developing countries than on highly industrialized countries. According to some, a voluntary System of industrial relations based on freedom of association, freedom to bargain collectively and freedom to strike is incompatible with economic development. The ILO, while recognizing that every industrial relations System must be adapted to national conditions, is unable to con-template infringements of basic human rights such as freedom of association in any country whatever its political structure and degree of development. According to the ILO, a basic requirement for the effective exercise of freedom of association and collective bargaining is the existence of strong workers' and employers' organizations and of efficient Labour Ministries. Consequently, the ILO gives a high priority to its programmes for workers' education, assistance to employers' organizations and strengthening of labour administration.

In labour relations, the condition of success is the quality of people and their willingness to become involved; in this process, the ILO's objective is to help people to help themselves.