Conflict in Labour Relations – What can be done?

Violence erupts in France over proposed workplace layoffs Air France  – According to The Guardian on October 6, 2015, Air France workers rip shirts from executives after airline cuts 2,900 jobs.

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Grievances, strikes, and lockout – when does conflict end and violence begin?

Many Human Resources and Industrial Relations professionals freely admit that union management relations, or more commonly known as Labour Relations, is based on an adversarial relationship.

As HR professionals we must ponder what that term “adversarial relationship” really means.

Does it simply mean the parties, union and management, have a different outlook? Or does it mean there is a fundamental difference in values. Or even more simply, are both parties just inherently selfish and greedy, and that is why there is tension and conflict!

Most industrial countries have well developed labour laws; such as, certification, grievance, arbitration, conciliation and mediation. These laws are specifically designed to reduce the conflict between the parties.

With all these safe guards, why does conflict cross the line and become violence – as in the Air France case, where seemingly normal workers resorted to ripping the shirts of their bosses’ backs when massive layoffs were announced.

When a society sees acts of violence like this, the automatic response is to condemn it, and rightfully so. However, once that is done, the society must ask themselves what is the true cause?  It is 2015, we are 216 years pass the French Revolution, 175 years pass the Industrial Revolution, and yet we are still erupting into violence in the streets over work.

It really makes you ask yourself, “Hmm, where in the world is the relationship in Labour Relations going?”

Discussion Questions

  1. What can employers and unions do to avoid these issues and fundamentally alter this adversarial relationship?
  2. What is a HR department to do with the employees – discipline the employees or press criminal charges?