Bosses purportedly from ‘hell’ - a major cause of conflict - Prof. Madurasinghe
by Brian Tissera

The role of human resources in conflict resolution has changed considerably from being routine to strategic, Prof. Lakshman Madurasinghe, Chairman (Media and Publicity), Institute of Personnel Management of Sri Lanka (IPMSL) said.

"The major causes of conflict are behaviour and conduct, unfair labour practices and victimization and also bosses purportedly from ‘hell’. However, conflicts can produce positive results when they cause open discussions on an issue, increases individual involvement, improves communication, releases stored emotions and helps people develop their abilities, "he told a forum jointly organised by IPMSL and the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) in Colombo recently. Prof. Madurasinghe spoke on the theme "Conflict Resolution - the HR Role".

Conflicts become negative if it diverts people from dealing with important issues, creates feelings of dissatisfaction among the people involved and also leads to people becoming uncooperative, he noted.

"HR has a strong role both in attitudinal change and transformational leadership. The primary levels of conflict within organisation are interpersonal (within an individual), interpersonal (between individuals), Introgroup (within a group) and intergroup (between groups)", he stressed.

There are two basic types of negotiation, namely distributive negotiations and intergrative negotiation. In intergrative negotiations the focus is to separate people from the problem, focus on interests, not positions, invent options for mutual gain and insist on using objective criteria. The distributive process is based on the position of "I want it all", "Time warp", "good cop, bad cop" and "ultimatums" Prof. Madurasinghe said.

The key task for a mediator are ensuring mutual motivation, achieving a balance in situational power, coordinating confrontation efforts promoting openness in dialogue and maintaining in optimum level of tension Prof. Madurasinghe added.

"A strike is defined as the cessation of work by a body of persons employed in any trade industry, acting in combination or a concerted refusal... to continue to work or to accept employment said Deputy General Manager - HRM, Commercial Bank of Ceylon Jayantha Jayaratna.

Speaking on "Industrial Unrest/Harmony", he said that industrial conflict is a disagreement between a body of workmen and an employer and could take the form of a go-slow, work-to-rule, refusal to work overtime, strike, boycott or a lock out. "Industrial relations is a relationship amongst the state, employers and trade unions representing the workers. However, of the total labour force of 7 million, comprising of 0.86 million in the public sector and 2.7 million in the private sector, the rest of the labour force and involved in the informed sector and are not unionized," he said.

The present system is burdened with inadequate facilities and a lack of skills at the Department of Labour and trade unions which have a strong historical background, politicization, presence of external elements, multiplicity of trade unions and a duplication of membership compounded by an adversarial relationship between employers and trade unions Jayaratne noted.

To provide a fair and equitable order for all parties, the government must decide priorities on economic growth, poverty alleviation and employment generation, he emphasised.

The realities of globalization has to be accepted by all parties with the need to change. Industrial relation have to be viewed in the context of the rapidly changing external economic environment and investment must be encouraged, employment generated with new forms of employment with labour law reforms.

"Political influence (external elements) must be withdrawn for the trade union movement, with less state intervention and bipartisanism being encouraged. The Labour Department must be realigned to national priorities and must have a clear policy, adequate resources and improved skills."

Labour disputes could be avoided by the development of mutual trust, respect for each other, participatory practices, effective communication and information sharing by both parties. There must also be a change in the attitude of the employer toward the trade union Jayaratne added.

At the level of the organisation, top management must understand the organisation’s policy on human resources and industrial relations. The approach of the management toward trade unions, the attitude of the trade unions, linking industrial relations to other key areas of HR management, good HR practices and a strong and competent HR department will help develop strong industrial relations, Jayaratne stressed.


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