GRIEVANCES AND DISPUTES
Labor relations involve more than negotiating a labor agreement. In fact, the real test of effective labor relations begins after agreement is signed. The acid test is found in the day-to-day administration of the agreement. It has been said that management usually gives away more in the administration of an agreement than in the negotiation of the agreement. Similarly, unions may feel that they sometimes lose in application of what they thought they had gained at the bargaining table. Hence, the administration of a collective bargaining agreement is a matter of substantial concern to both management and labour because it is here that a number of grievances arise which need to be resolved every day.
A grievance is an alleged violation of the rights of workers on the job. It may occur in one of several forms:
As a violation of the collective bargaining agreement
As a violation of Central or State laws
As a violation of past practice
As a violation of company rules
As a violation of management’s responsibility.
According to Michael .J. Jucuis, the term “grievance” means “any discontent or
dissatisfaction whether expressed or not and whether valid or not, arising out of anything connected with the company that an employee thinks, believes or even feels, is unfair, unjust or inequitable” this definition is very broad and covers dissatisfactions which have the following characteristics:
The discontent must arise out of something connected with the company. Workers may be dissatisfied because of several reasons, e.g., illness in the family, quarrel with a neighbour, disliking for the political party in power, and so on. Such outside sources are beyond the control of the company and, therefore, do not constitute a grievance.
The discontent may be expressed or implied. Expressed grievances are comparatively easy to recognize and are manifested in several ways, e.g., gossiping, jealousy, active criticism, argumentation, increased labour turnover, carelessness in the use of tools and materials, untidy housekeeping, poor workmanship, etc.
Unexpressed grievances are indicated by indifference to work, daydreaming, absenteeism, tardiness, etc. It is not wise to recognize only expressed grievances and overlook the unexpressed ones. In fact, unexpressed or implied grievances are more dangerous than the expressed ones because it is not known when they may explode. Hence, the executive should develop a seventh sense for anticipating grievances. He should be sensitive to eve the weak and ‘implied’ signals from the employee.
An employee may casually remark that it is too hot in the room or that he has been assigned a job that he does not like. All such casual remarks and grumbling are grievances by implication. Only for a painstaking and observant supervisor is it possible to discover what is bothering employees before they themselves are aware of grievances. The personnel department can be helpful by training supervisors to become proficient in observing employees. The techniques of attitude surveys and statistical interpretations of trends of turnover, complaints, transfers, suggestions, etc are also helpful in this connection.
The discontent may be valid, legitimate and rational or untrue and irrational or completely ludicrous. The point is that when a grievance held by an employee comes to the notice of the management it cannot usually dismiss it as irrational and untrue. Such grievances also have to be attended to by the management in the same way, as rational grievances. We should know that a large part of our behaviour is irrational. This may be largely due to our distorted perception. Emotional grievances which are based upon sentiments (like love, hatred, resentment, anger, envy, fear, etc), misconceptions and lack of thinking are examples of our irrational behaviour. These grievances are the most difficult to handle.
One advantage of giving a widest possible meaning to the term “grievance” is that the possibility of the manager overlooking any complaints is very much reduced.
Even those discontents, which have not yet assumed great importance for the complainant and have therefore not moved into formal procedural channels- such as casual remarks or grumbling – technically called “complaints”, come within the purview of the grievance handling machinery of the organization and are removed in the course.
Causes of grievances
The causes of grievances may broadly be classified in the following categories;
Grievances resulting from working conditions:
Improper matching of the worker with the job.
Changes in schedules or procedures.
Non-availability of proper tools, machines and equipment for doing the job.
Tight production standards.
Bad physical conditions of workplace
Failure to maintain proper discipline (excessive discipline or lack of it, both are equally harmful)
Poor relationship with the supervisor.
Grievances resulting from management policy:
Wage payment and job rates.
Promotion, demotion and discharges
Lack of career planning and employee development plan
Lack of role clarity, delegation, etc
Lack of regard for collective agreement
Hostility toward labour union
Grievances resulting from personal maladjustment:
Impractical attitude to life, etc.
Machinery for Handling Grievances
Every organization has need for a continuing process of conciliation to facilitate settlement of controversies and to assure an employee with a grievance that his case will be given a hearing. One of the important jobs of front-line supervisors is to handle problems with employees right on the spot to mutual satisfaction of workers and management. Inevitably grievances will arise that cannot be easily settled by the parties immediately concerned at the outset. The supervisor himself may be the course of the grievance in the worker’s mind. For this reason an organization needs a standing procedure or machinery for orderly redressal of grievances. The machinery makes provision for appeal up the ladder to top-level management. In situations where union contracts so provide, grievances not otherwise settled may be sent to arbitration. Morale is boosted by speedy disposition of grievances handled in conformance with set procedures.
A grievance procedure is a graduated series of steps arranged in a hierarchy of increasing complexity and involvement. The number of steps in a grievance procedure vary with the size of organization. A small organization may have only two steps – the supervisor and the manager – but a big organization may have as many as ten steps. The first and the last steps are almost always the same for all organisations. Though a labour union is not essential to the establishment and operation of a grievance procedure, one is assumed in the schematic diagram of a four-step grievance procedure, which is shown in the diagram below.
As shown in the diagram, the front-line supervisor is always accorded the first opportunity to handle grievances. He is the first rung of the ladder. If the concerned is unionized, a representative of the union may also join him. This step is very necessary to preserve the authority of the supervisor over his workers. But all grievances cannot be handled by the supervisor because many of them involve issues or policies, which are beyond limits of the authority. There may be some grievances, which he may fail to redress and find solution for. Hence provision is made for a second step in handling grievances. The second step may be the
personnel officer himself or some middle-level line executive. If the concern is unionized, some higher personnel in the union hierarchy may join him. It should, however, be remembered that by injecting the personnel officer into the procedure at this step and by giving him authority to overrule and reserve the decision of the supervisor the fundamental principle of line and staff relation is violated.
A third step is constituted by the top management to handle grievances involving company wide issues. In this step the top union representatives join. The redressal of grievance becomes complex and difficult because by now they acquire political hues and colors. If the grievance has not been settled by top management and top union leadership then in the fourth and final step it may be referred to an impartial outside person called an “arbitrator”. The two possibilities are that the issue may be temporarily or permanently dropped or the workers may go on strike.