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This is a Human Resources subject. Essential services are the police, firefighters, public sector, doctors, nurses, prison officers.
One of the theories that are supposed to be used is the Mobilization theory (Kelly 1998).

Answer

Title: SHOULD EMPLOYEES IN ESSENTIAL SERVICES BE ALLOWED TO STRIKE?

 

Contents

Introduction. 2

Theoretical framework. 3

Should employees in essential services be allowed to strike?. 5

The role of essential services in the maintenance of social order and security. 7

The quest for alternative means of dispute resolution in the context of essential services. 8

Conclusion. 10

References. 11

 

Introduction

            In many countries, labour disputes have in most cases led to the disruption of service delivery. When transport workers go on strike, cities turn chaotic as everyone looks for an alternative means of going to the place of work, school, or for shopping. However, this challenge may not amount to anything much compared to the serious problems that occur whenever workers who provide essential services go on strike. Examples of such workers include the police, public sector employees, doctors, fire-fighters, prison officers, and nurses. Strikes involving these workers bring more serious consequences, including chaos, a general feeling of insecurity among citizens, and a negative impact on the economy. In simple terms, such strikes may easily create a state of anarchy and bring a country’s day-to-day operations to a halt. The thesis of this paper is that employees working in essential services should not be allowed to strike.

In the United Kingdom, there are many instances where employees working in essential services at one point went on strike, leading to the disruption of the lives of many citizens, endangering lives, and hurting the country’s economy. For example, during the strike of 1978-1979, which were dubbed “winter of discontent”, rubbish piled in many streets (The Economist, 16 September 2010). More notoriously, gravediggers downed their spades and reports of unburied bodies caused a major public health concern (The Economist, 16 September 2010). To guard against such scenarios, some people argue that governments should make it illegal for employees working in essential services especially in the public sector to strike. The aim of this paper is to investigate the different reasons why it should be illegal for these employees to strike.

Theoretical framework

Various theories have been developed to try and explain the rationale for the provision of essential services and the ethical, moral, and legal principles that should guide professionals who provide these services. More fundamentally, the theories are part of a body of work on collective action and social movements. In these theories, efforts are being made to analyze the various problems that characterize industrial relations. The main issues include the acquisition of a sense of collective goal, the conditions under which individuals prefer to express their grievances and interests collectively, and the conditions that necessitate the choice of cooperative action in the pursuit of common goals rather than individual grievance.

The theories may be grouped into three categories: radical, pluralist, and unitarist perspectives. The radical/Marxist perspective views strikes as inevitable because of the perpetual conflict of interest between the working class and the ruling class (Edwards, 2003). The pluralist perspective is based on the view that the organisation comprises of two dominant groups with diverse interests: trade unions and the management (Budd, Gomez & Meltz, 2004). The central analytic focus for this theory is the need to maintain a balance of competing interests between the workers and the owners of the means of production. Each group possesses its own legitimate loyalties as well as a set of leaders and core objectives. In the unitarist perspective, the organisation is viewed as a harmonious whole where both employees and the management operate on the basis of a shared sense of common purpose (Budd, Gomez & Meltz, 2004).

One of the predominant theories in the radical perspective is the mobilization theory. This theory is based on Marxist principles, whereby society is said to comprise of a subordinate working class and a ruling class. These two classes are assumed to have conflicting interests. The ruling class is dominated by senior state officials and it seeks to exercise control over the subordinate class in both economic and social aspects. Members of this class do this by hiring working class people and exploiting their capacity to engage in work with a view to produce both value and surplus value. Because of this inevitable domination and exploitation, conflict of interests between these two social classes is inevitable.

According to the mobilization theory, five elements must exist for any meaningful collective action to occur: organisation, interests, opportunity, mobilization, and range of possible actions. The most important element in all collective action is interests. The manner in which members of a group define interests is also a very important determinant of the success of a collective action. Based on the mobilization theory, members of a group must believe that their interests are very different from those of the ruling class. In the element of organisation, focus is on those aspects of structure that have an impact on its capacity to undertake collective action. On the other hand, mobilization is the process through which collective control over all the resources required for a specific action is acquired by the group. The mobilization theory also provides a description of the concept of opportunity, which comprises of three components: cost of repression, opportunities available, and balance of power between the ruling class and the working class.

The mobilization theory is important in facilitating a better understanding of the problems relating to industrial relations. To begin with, it helps scholars transcend the debate over reasons for the decline of collectivism. It gives scholars an opportunity to address more precise issues such as specific aspects of individualism and collectivism. Moreover, it facilitates an in-depth understanding of different facets of collectivism. For instance, based on this theory, the presence of collective organisation is by no means an indication of the presence of collective interest.

Should employees in essential services be allowed to strike?

The answer to this question is a resounding no. There are many reasons why all states should put in place tighter legal controls on trade unions to make it impossible for employees working in essential services to strike. No one would want to live in a country where the police force has ceased to carry out its duties simply because of a labour dispute. Similarly, many people die whenever they fall ill and there is no one to attend to them in hospitals because all nurses and doctors have gone on strike.

Although labour disputes are sometimes inevitable, going on strike is not always the best solution. For the providers of essential services such as healthcare, security, and emergency services, it should not even be regarded as one of the available options. Based on the mobilization theory, and indeed the Marxist perspective, conflict of interests between employers and workers are inevitable. In the public service, where most of the essential service providers are based, the ruling class tends to dominate all policy-making functions. Therefore, the grievances that trade unions present to the government normally bring into perspective conflict of interests between the working class and the ruling class. Since such conflicts are anticipated in the context of industrial relations, efforts should be put in place beforehand to ensure that innocent citizens do not suffer in the process of seeking a resolution.

Legislation is one of the ways through which the public can be protected from the undesirable effects of strikes. However, the main problem is that matters relating to law normally tend to deviate from the reality on the ground. For example, theoretically speaking, it is illegal for leaders of trade unions to induce strikes in the UK. However, employees have continued to participate in strikes in the past and even in the present day. It is extremely difficult to point out a strike in which leaders of trade unions have followed all the provisions of the law before taking the industrial action. Nevertheless, to make a strike action legal, these leaders would have to go through rigorous, complex, and time-consuming bureaucratic procedures.

The unitarist perspective best explains the rationale for not allowing employees who provide essential services to go on strike. In this perspective, the objective is to align the employment policies with the interests of both employers and employees. In the provision of essential services, the government is always a major stakeholder. This explains why most of these employees tend to work in the public service. It is in the interest of the government for its citizens to live in a secure environment, to receive healthcare services, and to be accorded the necessary emergency services in the event of accidents and disasters. On the other hand, employees are expected to understand that all claims of injustice notwithstanding, they have a primarily responsibility to provide essential services to the public. In the unitary perspective, the core objective of industrial relations is the propagation of a harmonious relationship and the pursuit of amicable resolution of labour disputes. From this perspective, strikes may be said to constitute an illegitimate option simply because they are characterized by radical actions that easily worsen employer-employee relations.

Many arguments may be made in regards to the reasons why strikes go against the principles of unitarism. For instance, a bad precedent may be created for all providers of essential services if a government chooses to bow to the demands of trade unions following a strike. In subsequent labour disputes, labour unions may be tempted to use strikes as the most efficient tool for use in expressing their grievances to the government. Another argument relates to the conditions in which worker resistance emerges. Workers are likely to be motivated to participate in collective action because of dissatisfaction and perceptions of injustice. Strikes lead to the emergence of a conflict. In the process of providing essential services, there should be no room for conflicts because they interfere with the seamless delivery of those essential services.

The chaotic situations that unfold when doctors, police officers, fire-fighters, and doctors go on strike are counterproductive. They tend to have a negative impact on everyone including employers, employees, and innocent citizens. In the absence of security services, citizens feel insecure. In the absence of healthcare services, people are unable to contribute productively to economic activities. Whenever emergencies occur and emergency officials do not respond on time, the government may lose legitimacy because of its failure to provide efficient rescue and recovery operations on time. Again, such situations bring about negative outcomes to all those who are involved in the dispute. In light of such observations, a unitarist perspective seems to offer the best approach to the resolution of labour disputes.

The role of essential services in the maintenance of social order and security

In all countries, essential services play a critical role in the maintenance of social order and security. For this reason, essential services are politically sensitive roles. Any lapses in the provision of these services may be interpreted by citizens to mean that the government is no longer able to fulfil its constitutional mandate of governance and service delivery. Whenever unions that bring together employees working towards the delivery of essential services raise alarm over labour disputes, citizens expect the government to respond promptly to avert a looming crisis.

From the perspective of the mobilization theory, both the government and the trade unions that bring together providers of essential services have a role to play in ensuring that the country does not descent into social disorder and anarchy. To do this, they must embrace aspects of both managerialism and political action with a view to achieve instrumental gains. The Marxist perspective pre-empts the emergence of conflicts in relations between providers of essential services and their employers. Based on this perspective, the absence of strike actions should not be interpreted by the government to mean that employees are satisfied. Moreover, decline in strike action is not an indication that labour conflicts in the delivery of essential services have been eradicated. Dissatisfied employees may protest passively by mentally switching off from work or offering poor customer service. They may also engage in unorganized actions such as absenteeism, labour turnover, indiscipline, fiddling, and sabotage. These passive, disorganized actions may even be more difficult for government agencies to detect and address.

Bellemare (2000) argues that that everyone should recognize the fact that every industrial relations consists of three actors: employees, unions, and the state. Bellemare (2000) also observes that there are calls to expand upon this notion to bring in end users. Indeed, it is important to bring on board end users on board. These end users happen to be innocent citizens who bear the blunt of poor quality of essential services. Yet these citizens dutifully pay taxes that the government should be using to pay the workers.

The quest for alternative means of dispute resolution in the context of essential services

From the point of view of both unitarist and pluralist perspectives, it is improper for those who provide essential services to resort to industrial actions such as strikes, which may jeopardize the lives of third parties. There are many other alternative approaches that they can use to air their grievances. The main approaches ones include conciliation, mediation, and arbitration. For proponents of unitarism these approaches contribute to the formation of a harmonious whole in regards to industrial relations. For proponents of pluralism, these approaches provide a platform through which the diverse interests of the trade unions and the management are reconciled.

The mobilization theory also supports the adoption of these methods of dispute resolution by virtue of recognizing the need by both the ruling class and the working to put into consideration a range of possible actions and their consequences. Although this theory supports strikes as one of radical ways of safeguarding the interests of employees, it creates leeway for stakeholders to put into consideration the consequences of this action for third parties. On this basis, alternative wage-fixing methods and dispute resolution procedures can be sought. Examples include indexation like in the case of the police force and the establishment of pay review bodies like in the case of nurses, doctors, and prison officers (Corby, 2002; Buchan, 2000). Evidence shows that organisations that have established pay review bodies performed well compared to those that have not put in place such bodies (Bach, 2002; White, 2000; Bach, 2000).

Going forward, the debate should move towards determining the situations where strikes can be lawfully exercises. According to a study conducted by the Centre for Economic Performance n the UK, annual pay increases of 0.7 percent higher were reported in settlements that involved striking workers compared to those that did not involve striking workers (Ingram, Metcalf & Wadsworth, 2008). However, Ricahrd Hyman of the London School o Economics argues that in theory, it is possible for someone in the UK to sue unions for inducing employees to engage in a breach of contract (The Economist, 4 November 2010). These views reflect the numerous unanswered questions that policymakers must address in efforts to ensure that strikes do not occur to avoid the disruption of the delivery of essential services to the public.

Conclusion

            The conclusion arrived at in this investigation is that employees in essential services should not be allowed to strike for the simple reason that they can bring to a halt the day-to-day running of a country’s affairs. Although radical approaches such as the mobilization theory present strikes as one of the methods of resolving labour conflicts, there are growing concerns that an alternative dispute resolution mechanism should be sought when it comes to essential services. The quest for alternative mechanisms for improving wage outcomes for these employees is also supported in the pluralist and unitarist perspectives.

Strikes bring about numerous inconveniences to the public in the form of chaotic situations, lack of security, and a negative impact on the economy. To avoid such situations, wage disputes involving essential service providers such as doctors, prison officers, fire-fighters, and police officers should be addressed through special mechanisms such as conciliation, mediation, and arbitration. It is also important for the government to adopt more proactive and long-term conflict resolution mechanisms such as the establishment of pay review bodies.

 

References

Bach, S 2000, ‘Health sector reform and human resource management: Britain in comparative perspective’, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol. 11, no. 5, pp. 925-942.

Bach, S 2002, ‘Public-sector Employment Relations Reform under Labour: Muddling Through on Modernization?’, British Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 319–339.

Bellemare, G 2000, ‘End Users: Actors in the Industrial Relations System?’, British Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 383–405.

Buchan, J 2000, ‘Health sector reform and human resources: lessons from the United Kingdom’, Health Policy and Planning, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 319-325.

Budd, J, Gomez, R & Meltz, N 2004, ‘Why a balance is best: The pluralist industrial relations paradigm of balancing competing interests’, Theoretical Perspectives on Work and the Employment Relationship, vol. 2, pp. 1-45.

Corby, S 2002, ‘On parole: prison service industrial relations’, Industrial Relations Journal, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 286–297.

Edwards, P (ed.), 2003, Industrial Relations: Theory and Practice, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Ingram, P, Metcalf, D & Wadsworth, J 2008, Do strikes pay?, CEPDP, 92, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

The Economist, 2010, Angry trade unions: The comrades take on the coalition, 16 September 2010, retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/17043870  on March 25, 2013.

The Economist, 2010, Strikes and trade unions – Struck out: Industrial action prompts calls to toughen union laws, 4 November 2010, retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/17420126  on March 25, 2014.

White, G 2000, ‘The Pay Review Body System: Its Development and Impact’, Historical Studies in Industrial Relations, vol. 1, no. 9, pp. 71-100.

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