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Feature Article of Thursday, 8 June 2006

Columnist: Coleman, Casely Ato

Threats And Industrial Relations In Ghana

Introduction

In recent times within the Ghanaian industrial relations terrain, the use of threats is gradually becoming a norm for resolving industrial disputes. Article 153 of the Labour Act 2003 Act 651 makes it an obligation for the parties to negotiate in good faith. The use of threats in collective bargaining can create more antagonism although there are other potential advantages. Threats by parties in industrial relations does not permit the establishment of goodwill and trust, necessary ingredients for industrial peace and economic growth in Ghana.
This article will seek to define collective bargaining, analyze and discuss the merits and demerits of the use of threats, and also assess the conditions under which the utilization of threats is either productive or counter productive from a social science perspective. It will then propose some ideas on how to avoid the use of threats in industrial relations.

What is Collective Bargaining?

Collective bargaining involves negotiations between two or three parties for example between employers and workers or their representatives (such as unions) to determine substantive rules(compensation and benefits) and procedural rules(due processes and procedure for resolving disagreement over the implementation of the employment contract e.g. grievance and disciplinary procedures and rules for handling conflicts) within the framework of the employment relations. In industrial relations, the state through government also participates both as an employer or as a regulator or referee between management and labour. A key purpose of collective bargaining is to protect the interests of the parties by entering into an agreement.
In some cases, the agreement reached may be mutually beneficial to one party?s advantage, whiles in certain cases an agreement may not be reached at all. One writer Pruit (Negotiations in Social Conflict, 1993) notes through the strategic choice model that there are three basic strategies to be chosen by the bargainer in the process of bargaining one of which is to concede unilaterally so as to reduce the distance between the two parties and to reach an agreement earlier. Next is the use of coordinative behaviour which involves collaborating with the other party in search of a mutually acceptable solution. This may take the form of proposals for compromise, participation in a problem solving discussion, a unilateral tension reducing initiative, or cooperation by dealing through a third party to resolve the issue at stake.
A key condition necessary for a bargainer to opt for coordinative behaviour is trust defined as ? the belief that the other party is willing and ready for coordination?. This becomes strategic since by engaging in coordinative behavior, the party may be exposed to exploitation. Trust therefore depends on evidence that the other party will reciprocate if one takes a coordinative initiative.

The Use of Threats

The third tool is the use of competitive behaviour which implies standing firm by one?s demands and employing various tactics such as pressure, and threats to persuade the other party to concede. This strategy seeks self gains at the expense of the other party.
The tactics adopted by negotiators in the attempt to achieve their goals are closely linked to and inter-related with their bargaining power. Threat is a tool in the collective bargaining process and it is aimed at pressurizing the other party to concede. It is a commitment to punish the other party if one?s demands are not accepted. It may sometimes be used to push the other party into negotiations. Threats in collective bargaining could be both productive and counter productive in diverse ways.

Advantages

It seems easier to make than an offer, because it takes only a few words and once effective the user does not have to implement it. It therefore costs the use virtually nothing financial wise and in addition may facilitate a short-cut approach to achieving one?s goals. However the effectiveness of threats is contingent on how credible it is communicated. When threats are credible, virtually no agreement would seem less attractive to the other party. A threat is credible if the user is seen as actually possessing the willingness, ability and capacity to enforce the threat. The user can utilize threats productively if the power and resources to carry them out are overwhelmingly visible to the other party. The success of threats also depends on how regular and effective the user?s threats has been in the past, whiles the size or magnitude of the threat could also add to its effectiveness. There are various practical examples of this phenomenon and students of industrial relations can refer to various disputes involving University Teacher Associations of Ghana(UTAG), Civil Servants Association, Ghana Medical Association, to mention a few in the public sector, while there are numerous other examples in the private sector.
Threats sometimes elicit concession since they tend to be the only means to get the other party to negotiate. Like other forms of competitive bargaining, threats could be used to reduce the other party?s goals to a realistic level that may eventually lead to a solution.
Disadvantages However unequal use of threats could also lead to counter-threats and ultimately jeopardize a relationship. Being a form of pressure in itself, threats often leads to just the opposite of what it sets to accomplish by building pressure in the opposite direction. Instead of making a decision easier for the other side, it tends to make it all the more difficult.
When both parties resort to the use of threats, it may end up with one party yielding, but very often the negotiation tends to break off without any benefits to either side. Alternatively, any agreements reached are gained at too great a cost, and could result in low joint benefits to the parties.
Several studies have shown that the use of counter-threats is not only associated with failure to reach an agreement in negotiations, but is also the result of poor relations between the parties. This is because counter-threats creates more tension and produces a desire for retaliation, with both parties assuming increasingly hostile postures towards each other.
One writer Brehm has postulated a reactance theory which argues that people react to situations and refuse to comply to actions or directives which undermine their feelings of competence, autonomy and moral adequacy especially when it comes from a external source. This becomes more pronounced if the threatened group is a highly cohesive group with a strong identity. There are several empirical examples of such situations in industrial relations in Ghana.
Threats tend to generate resentment and resistance mainly because people dislike being coerced to take an action since this reduces their freedom of choice. Resentments caused by the use of threats tends to build and develop negative attitudes towards the threatener. It further results n a remarkable reduction in the respect for, as well as the sense of obligation to the threatener. Such tools erodes trust between the parties and may make any future negotiations equally difficult if not impossible.
Where the other side perceives the threats as lacking legitimacy and credibility, there is the likelihood of the threat being ignored or considered unauthorized and irrelevant, this makes it ineffective. What is worse, it destroys the user?s image and further reduces his authority in any future deals, especially when the threats ends up not being enforced, even though the other party has not conceded. It is also worth nothing that where there is initial credibility, this may be severerely reduced if the other party realizes that fulfilling the threat is costly to both the user and the target.
Threats often limits its users to particular demands and thereby makes the possibility of seeking other alternative options very unlikely and may limit the use of innovative approaches.

The Way Forward

The phenomenon of social identity has proved that where there exist strong stereotypical relationships, there is the likelihood of management and workers or unions, being at two opposite extreme of opinions. This leads to a perpetuation of a ?them? and ?us? attitudes in the negotiation process which may increase hostility and facilitate the use of threats. If both parties are to achieve cooperation and avoid the use of threats, it will be important to change attitudes and behavior in certain areas. These may involve exchange of information(i.e. disclosure), setting joint mutually agreed goals, increasing contacts and very importantly according respect to each party.
Negotiators will need to discuss issues freely without any commitments and seek long-term solutions that takes into account the future survival of the organization which is the only guarantee of job security within an atmosphere of a high level of trust. The Firm, flexible but concerned (FFC) approach has been suggested by many writers and practitioners of industrial relations. Firmness means not yielding to one?s basic reasonable values and goals to ensure that they are clearly represented in the final solution. Flexibility allows for consistent re-examination of goals to see how realistic, reasonable and obtainable they are. Concern about the other party?s position and welfare facilitates the integration of their perspectives into the final solution.
In conclusion this paper believes that as Ghana seeks the path of development, it is necessary for parties in industrial relations to strive to adopt more positive tactics and tools for resolving workplace related issues which often than not borders on the enforcement of social, political and economic rights and survival for both parties. Parties in industrial relations in Ghana should respect and recognize the rights of their opposing party and strive to honor their commitments to minimize the use of threats.



Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.


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