The Enforcement of Rights under Collective Agreement
Historically, the relations between employers and employees were accompanied by numerous conflicts which were determined by natural factors. In fact, the conflicts between the management and employees were and still are inevitable since, even thought they work in the same organizations, they still have different purposes. It is obvious that the major goal of employees is to get the maximum payment for their labor and to have guarantees of social protection in case of some accidents, illnesses, retirement, etc. while managers and the owners of companies attempt to get the maximum profit from their organizations exploiting employees possibly reducing the cost of the labor force and increasing the effectiveness and productivity of labor. As a result, the functioning of both parties within the same organizations is based on different approaches to the job each of the parties does.
No wonder such a difference leads to the numerous conflicts when one of the parties or both want to protect their own interests since this inevitably affects the interests of the opposing party. In such a situation, the necessity to develop some common rules of the game is obvious. This is why in the course of the development of relationships between employers and employees the legal basis of their relations was created. In this respect, it is necessary to underline that employees, being initially in a deprived position, attempt to protect their interests with the help of unions they create. One of the most effective legal ways of protection of interests of employees is considered to be the collective agreement which is supposed to guarantee the protection of rights of employees and may be viewed as a legal basis for the more responsible relationships between employers and employees.
Unions vs. management Speaking about the collective agreement, it is primarily necessary to dwell upon the parties which relationship this agreement is supposed to regulate. First of all, it should be said that the collective agreement may be viewed as the product of the evolution of the employees’ movement and its maturing and transformation into a really powerful force. Obviously, employees working in different industries and organizations, initially, were equally unprotected in face of the policy of the owners or managers of the organizations they worked. Naturally, their rights were constantly oppressed and they needed to undertake some countermeasures to prevent the growing oppression and exploitation from the part of employers. The opposition of some employees was apparently ineffective since they had to contrast their position to that of the entire organization controlled by a few, or even, only one owner.
In such a situation, employees started to organize unions which could protect their interests more effectively and nowadays, unions became a significant power in the national labor market since they can affect considerably the relations concerning industries as well as organizations. This means that unions were the organizations of employees that could protect each of its members in the case when their rights are violated or when their interests are negatively affected by managerial decisions. The opposite party, managers and owners of companies were historically opposing to the union movement but they turned to be unable to resist to the progress and, anyway, they needed some legal basis, some agreement with employees to make them work more effectively and prevent the negative consequences of the conflicts that could develop within organizations, such as strikes, for instance. In other words, unions that protected the interests of employees became a kind of business partner managers should deal with in order to decrease the possibility of conflicts with employees or, if such conflicts occurred, they should make a deal with unions and, on the one hand, meet the needs of employees and, on the other hand, keep the functioning of organization effectively.
Collective agreement Obviously, both managers and employees needed the legal basis for the effective relationship and cooperation. This means that both managers and employees needed to have clearly defined principles according to which they could construct their relationships within an organization. Moreover, it was also necessary to clearly define the major rights and opportunities as well as obligations of the parties. As a result, agreements between organizations and employees appeared.
It should be pointed out that there may exist various types of agreements between an organization, or its managers, and employees. For instance, an employee may sign an individual contract which clearly defines his rights, functions and obligations as well as those of the organization he is working at. At first, such contracts were viewed as highly effective since they provided employees with an opportunity to define the conditions of their work and their reward.
However, as the relationships between managers and employees grew more and more complicated, the individual contracts were insufficient and often ineffective since an employee could hardly resist to the entire organization. At any rate, potentially, he could lost his job and be replaced by another employee. In such a situation, unions could be quite helpful. Nevertheless, the assistance of unions could not solve the problem absolutely. As a result, collective agreements have started to appear and nowadays, they are extremely popular and are considered to be one of the most effective ways to regulate the relationships between managers and employees and to increase the effectiveness of their work within an organization. At the same time, it is necessary to underline that collective agreement became a really effective tool which may be viewed as a considerable enforcement of rights of employees. In fact, collective agreement is a legal agreement between an organization, represented by its managers, and employees which are traditionally represented by unions. Basically, the collective agreements clearly define the rights of all employees and basic principles of their relationships with managers and organization they are working at, at large. The benefits of collective agreements are evident. For instance, it is possible to say that collective agreements provide all employees with equal rights and opportunities so that the violation of rights of an employee would be protected by the agreement and, if necessary, the legal actions may be undertaken to force managers to follow the rules established by the current legislation and the collective agreement.
Conflicts and the grievance system Nevertheless, in spite of the progress of relationships between managers and employees and the popularity of collective agreements they are still unable to fully guarantee the prevention of conflicts within organizations. In fact, the conflicts, as it has already been mentioned above, are inevitable. This is why collective agreements should be used as effective tool that can minimize the risk of the development of conflicts between managers and employees within an organization but not totally eliminate it that is practically impossible.
Conflicts naturally occurs as the relationships between managers and employees continues to evolve. Nowadays, the necessity of changes and regular implementation of innovations is higher that it has ever been before. This means that managers need to implement innovations, including new production systems, changing the conditions of work and even replacing employees with artificially created mechanisms, computers, etc. As a result, the position of employees may be considerably affected in the result of the implementation of innovations and this does not necessarily mean the lost of a job but any change that affect the current position and conditions of work of an employee.
Naturally, such changes implemented by managers should correspond to the norms that were accorded between managers and unions and, what is more, the changes cannot violate rights of employees. In this respect, collective agreements play an extremely important role since it is due to the collective agreements employees can legally define their rights or some specific conditions they want managers to observe or provide the employees with.
However, even such a powerful tool as the collective agreement cannot always work effectively enough or, to put it more precisely, it works always but it cannot always prevent conflicts between managers and employees. In such a situation, when the conflict has broken out the grievance system should be applied. In fact, the solution of disputes through the grievance system had been found and started to get successfully implemented after the World War II. These systems had started to spread rapidly and nowadays the majority of collective agreements include the grievance system. It should be pointed out that this system provides opportunities for negotiations between parties in case of some conflict that may lead to its successful resolutions without undertaking such radical measures as strikes, pickets, or discharge of employees. At the same time it is worthy of mention that the final step of the grievance system is the binding arbitration.
In fact, grievance is a written complaint which may be created and applied when the rights of employees are violated and it may be initiated on the lower level, where the conflict or violation of rights of some employee or employees occurs, and gradually, if the conflict remains unresolved, pass through all levels until the highest one where top managers and union officials attempt to find an agreement or plausible solution of the conflict.
Solutions of conflicts Basically, the modern collective agreements include the grievance system which could be applied in a case of conflicts. At the same time, the solution of conflicts and grievance system imply that the conflicts could be solved at any stage of their development. In other words, the violation of rights of an employee inevitably leads to the conflict and often managers are interested in the solution of this conflict in a possibly shorter terms and on the lower level when the conflict on the lower level has not outgrown into the conflict that involves the top managers and union officials since, on the highest level, the demands of unions may be more considerable and the outcomes of the conflict more serious for an organization than if the conflict is solved on the lower level.
Anyway, there are three possible ways of actions managers can undertake to solve the conflict. First of all, it is possible to affirm the original decision. This means that remains its own decision unchanged. Obviously, this is quite a risky way which cannot always lead to the effective solution of the conflict because managers simply ignore the interests and demands of employees that threatens to the stability within an organization as employees grow dissatisfied when their demands are not taken into consideration or when their rights are violated. In fact, this solution may be applied only when the management has strong legal reasons for the decision taken. Otherwise, unions will have a legal opportunity to force the management to change their decision using all accessible legal means of ‘persuasion’. It should be said that this solution does not seem to be effective since it rather leads to the aggravation of the conflict than its real solution.
Another way of solution of the conflict is granting the grievance. In fact, this solution is the opposite to the previously discussed one since it implies that the management has to give in to the demands of employees and unions. At the same time, the decision taken by the management that has led to the conflict may be vitally important to the normal functioning and the future of the entire organization. This is why the agreement based on the compromise seems to be the best solution of the conflict that may exist between the management and employees. Basically, agreement implies the involvement of the arbitrator which is supposed to be a mediator in the conflict. It is worthy of mention that the conflicting parties should cover the costs on the agreement, including arbitrator’s fees, from their own funds. However, the effectiveness of such a solution seems to be the highest since the agreement leads to the finding of some alternative solution, a consensus or compromise that meets the interests of both the management and employees.
Conclusion Thus, it is possible to conclude that nowadays collective agreements play an important role in the protection of the rights of employees. Moreover, they contribute considerably to the solution of conflicts within organizations between managers and employees and provide the legal basis for the effective work of both parties. At the same time the collective agreements also provide an opportunity to solve the conflicts effectively through the use of the grievance system.