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Effective Collective Bargaining and Conflict Management: Analytical Essay

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Introduction 1.1 Problem statement

The relationship between management and trade unions are one of the most fundamental working relationships within South Africa’s labour sphere. Yet, bargaining with South African trade unions can be quite a daunting task, as management continually protests against trade unions’ obstinate actions and workplace disruptions within their organisation (Mash & Kremer, 2016).

Researchers within the field of sociology critically portray trade unions as uncompromisable, supercilious and irrational (Farber 2001; Freeman and Medoff, 1984). Even so, trade unions are commonly acknowledged as employee organisations formed with the expectation of resolving work-related matters and promoting employee benefits (Rajesh & Manoj, 2015). Mash and Kremer (2016) however, point out that trade unions put emphasis on vertical differences that occur in the organisation consisting between management and employees. Dhammika (2015) describes trade unions as a key determining factor regarding the nature of industrial relations, not only within the labour market sphere but as well as in the country. Nevertheless, unionism is cynically connected with organisational research, capital investment and market value of organisations (Cullinane & Durdan, 2012; Mash & Kremer, 2016). Cullinane and Durdan (2012) state that the relationship climate between management and trade union is set by the rejection or acceptance of management towards trade unions. This determines whether the labour relationship between unions and management are harmonious or not (Cullinane and Durdan, 2012). Furthermore, the degree to which an employee commits either to the union or their organisation is a deciding factor in the relationship between management and union (Snape, Tom, & Chan, 2000). This view can result in unanticipated conflict causing a strenuous bargaining relationship between management and union (Ohlendorf, 2001; Omisore & Abiodun; 2016).

On the word of Godfrey (2010) collective bargaining in South Africa is an adversarial and conflicting process, which involves negotiations between parties with contradictory interests, searching for mutually acceptable compromises. In accordance to this, the South African constitution grants all individuals the right to fair and just labour practice as well the right to strike (Botha, 2015). However, the right to strike and the right to engage in the collective bargaining process is governed by the LRA 66 of 1995 (Botha, 2015). The collective bargaining process is thus voluntary and therefore settles any conflicting objectives of management, employees and unions through joint regulations of the terms and conditions of employment (Harrison, 2004). Du Plessis et al. (1996) describe collective bargaining as a process in which mutual control of the organisation is established by management and labour and by bargaining collectively, all workplace-related conflict is contained and collective agreements are reached to resolve any conflict situations. Nel and van Rooyen (1991:166) further elaborate that during the bargaining process management and unions meet, present and counter demands, convince, and in many cases within the South African labour sphere, threaten the opposition, until suitable agreements are reached.

Kahn-Freund (1972) states that for management, collective bargaining serves as a way to maintain peaceful industrial relations and for trade unions, it serves as a way to maintain specific work standards, such as employment rewards and stable employment conditions for union members. The collective bargaining process is set in motion when the trade union stipulates their demands, the management will act in response by comparing the demands stipulated by the union with their own (Harrison, 2004). According to Clegg, Courpasson and Phillips (2006) and Dubin (1957), the bargaining relationship between management and the representative trade union is typically viewed as an ongoing power struggle. Hence, the degree to which a trade union is viewed as a nuisance or an advantage in the bargaining relationship is greatly determined by the management’s response toward the trade union (Mash & Kremer, 2016). In addition, when trade unions affiliate themselves with political parties (Nanayakkara, 1998), this causes severe economic and managerial implications for the organization (Fenando, 1988). As most South African trade unions are affiliated with political parties, this has fostered political unionism (Biyanwila, 2003). Lambert (2002) defines political unionism as trade unions who engage with predominant political parties with the aim of obtaining power-based mechanisms to achieve union demands. Political unionism is largely used by trade unions as a power and status bargaining tool and provides unions with a clear collective identity (Dhammika, 2015; Gunawardana & Biyanwilla, 2008). T

By standing together unions gain power and reduce the gap between management and employees (Mash & Kremer, 2016). Thus, as the unionization of employees grow, changes occur from bargaining over work conditions and wages to a well-organized effort led by professional individuals in the trade union (Mash & Kremer, 2016). According to Martinez, Fiorito and Ferris (2012), one of the most distinct objectives of any trade union is to better the balance ratio of power between trade union and management groups. Therefore, the trade union’s level of strength is a realization of this fundamental aim (Martinez, Fiorito and Ferris, 2012). As a result, strong unions are measured in accordance to their perceived success in dealing with management and vice versa (Martinez, Fiorito and Ferris, 2012). Bacharach and Lawler (1986) distinguished that the power dependence theory treats the ongoing collective bargaining relationship between management and unions as a power struggle where both union and management try to obtain a favorable power position.

Effective collective bargaining and conflict management play a crucial role towards harmonious labour relationships between unions and management (Yah Baah et al., 2012). According to Gelfand and Dyer (2000) conflict is ever-present, in addition, the capacity to comprehend, predict and manage conflict is one of the most essential challenges in any labour relationship. Elgoibar et al. (2012) elaborate that the success of internal collective bargaining and problem solving mainly depends on trade unions and management’s capability of managing potential conflicts. Rahim (1986) states that efficient and effective conflict management promotes motivation, improves management and union morale and encourages individual and social growth. Yah Baah et al., (2012) coincide with Rahim (1986) by further explaining that successful conflict management can contribute to a organisation’s effectiveness, resulting in ‘win-win’ situations, but if conflict is mismanaged it can result in counterproductive behaviour, resulting in both parties walking away empty-handed. As stated by Ting-Toomey et al. (2000) conflict is not always the main cause of problematic collective bargaining sessions but rather the conflict management style implemented, creating insubstantial conflict conditions between management and unions. Blake and Mouton (1964), Thomas and Kilmann (1974) and Rahim (1983) identified specific styles to manage conflict which enable individuals to react in a particular manner when confronted with a conflict situation. The five styles of conflict have been identified as; competing (forcing, dominating), accommodating (obliging), avoiding (denial, withdrawal), collaborating (integrating) and compromising (negotiating) (Blake & Mouton 1964; Rahim 1983; Thomas & Kilmann 1974). According to Vokić and Sontor (2009) no particular style of managing conflict is always the most suitable, therefore it depends on the given situation in order to reach a decision about what style will be the most appropriate to implement. By way of explanation, background appears to play a fundamental part in managing conflict, which indicates the choice an individual makes regarding their conflict management style is situational dependant (King & Miles, 1990).

In conclusion, the general objective of this study will be to investigate how trade unions and management approach each conflict management styles and how these styles to manage conflict affects each parties bargaining power during the collective bargaining process. It is anticipated that a better understanding of these issues will pinpoint better strategies for collective bargaining between management and unions. Furthermore, this research study will attempt to investigate the influence of the power-dependence theory on the collective braining process of management and unions, and in addition how the power-dependency of each actor influences the participating member’s conflict management styles. Henceforth, the researchers will conduct a quantitative study to gather data relating to the impact of power-dependence and conflict management styles on management and trade unions and how these factors overall influences the collective bargaining process of management and unions.

1.2 Literature review

Collective bargaining intro


In South Africa, collective bargaining acts as a fundamental economic function that regulates employee relations in the workplace and aims to the resolve conflicting interests of management and trade unions (Harrison, 2004). When studying present literature available on collective bargaining, research verified that differences in the collective bargaining processes amongst unions and management are derived from the power dependence theory (Doellgast & Benassi, 2014). Theorists argued that the outcome and structure of these labour market relationships are explained by differences or variations in the power of labour relative to management and the mediation through unions and the state (Korpi 1983; Esping-Andersen and Korpi 1984). When assessing the variation in trade unions access to bargaining power, which includes their level of power and strength in the organisation and their participation rights in the workplace, it influences the unions capability to promote employees’ interest in reorganisation and control over their work environment (Doellgast & Benassi, 2014).

Empirical evidence, therefore, suggests that coordinated forms of collective bargaining are not mainly established and maintained to seek and resolve coordination problems between management and unions, but are instead the result of conflict between societal attempts made by management and unions to regulate the labour market through bargaining collectively (Streeck 2009). Research, therefore, suggests that management and unions are not necessarily complicit with marginal growth in the collective bargaining relationship and will therefore seek to expand their power when their traditional sources of bargaining power declines (Doellgast & Benassi, 2014).

Power dependence

According to Harrison, (2004) the basis of collective bargaining is power. Therefore, in order to understand the theory of power Heckathorn (1983) and Lawler and Bacharach (1986) defined the theory as one actor’s dependence on the opposing on another. Thus, the fundamental aspect of the theory is based on the proposition that each actor’s power is based on the dependency of the opposing side rather than their own side (Bacharach & Lawler, 1981a; Blau, 1964; Emerson, 1962, 1972). Consequently, within the field of labour-management relations, the labour’s power is based on the dependency of management on the participation of the trade union and its members (Bacharach and Lawler,1986). Whilst management’s power is based on the degree to which the participating union and its members depend on the management (Lawler & Bacharach, 1986a).

Previous research conducted in the 1970s and 1980s based on the examination of the power dependence theory concluded that the source of power is based on an estimation about oneself and further extent of power (Bacharach and Lawler, 1976, 1981; Hegtvedt, 1988; Lawler & Bacharach 1976, 1979). Dubin (1957) who conducted vital studies based on the power dependence theory in the 1950s, pointed out that bargaining power is a worn-out term used in the research of union-management relations. Whilst, the power dependence theory is viewed by researchers as a systematic process that involves opposition between competing parties over who executes what function, when and how (Bacharach & Lawler,1981; Dubin, 1957; Lawler & Bacharach, 1976, 1979).

Bacharach and Lawler (1986) discovered that the power dependence theory contains certain paradoxes that define the attainment and use of power within the collective bargaining relationship. The four paradoxes of power dependence are as follows;

Power is based on giving. The first paradox according to Bacharach and Lawler (1986), in order for management or unions gain power they must make the other depend on them. Thus, this is accomplished by one party providing benefits to the other (Bacharach and Lawler, 1986; Lawler & Bacharach, 1986). For example, providing the opposition with an item of interest that could influence the power balance in the first parties’ favor. However, both parties, wants to utilize the benefits they provided in order to gain additional benefits in return (Lawler & Bacharach, 1986b). Yet, each actor want to provide benefits which they themselves view as invaluable, that the opposition views as highly valuable, and in return receive the outcome benefits they desired (Lawler & Bacharach, 1986a).

To use power is to lose it. Lawler and Bacharach (1986b), established that the second paradox of the power dependence theory consists out of coercion, which entails that a raise benefits taken or a reduction in benefits provided to the other party. Thus, each party has the capacity to extract benefits. Literature based on power dependence, suggests that the provision of benefits entail a major threat of losing said benefits (French & Raven, 1959; Bacharach and Lawler, 1986; Lawler & Bacharach, 1986). Nevertheless, if the giving is the basis of the power dependence theory, this could implicate the degree to which one party coerces another within the long run (Bacharach and Lawler, 1986; Lawler & Bacharach, 1986). As a result, when a trade union succeeds in negotiating favorable benefits it may motivate management to reduce labour costs such as retrenchments or mechanizations of the work place, resulting in management seeking commodities elsewhere (Lawler & Bacharach, 1986).

Power may have integrative rather than disintegrative effects on a labour-management relationship. The third paradox of power dependence is based on the effort of management and trade unions to change the power relationship, which in most cases is met with hostility (Lawler & Bacharach, 1986). As a result, management and unions implement tactics designed to change the power relationship, which are equivalent in an attempt to transform the terms of which the existing relationship rests on (Bacharach & Lawler, 1986; Lawler & Bacharach, 1986). Hence, this actions causes a disintegrative effect on union-management relations (Bacharach & Lawler, 1976; Lawler & Bacharach, 1986). According to the power dependence framework, strategic actions based on competitive bargaining styles, will ultimately have a integrative effect on the collective bargaining process (Bacharach & Lawler, 1976, 1986; Lawler & Bacharach, 1986). Based on the power dependence framework, two types of tactical options exist in which enables management and unions to modify the power balance in their relationship (Lawler & Bacharach, 1986). The two broad types of tactical options to amend the power relationship are namely; tactics that amplifies the opponent’s dependence and tactics to reduce the actors dependence (Bacharach and Lawler, 1986).

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Inferior power can provide an actor a tactical advantage. The last paradox only applies to the commitment dimension (Bacharach & Lawler, 1986). This paradox has opposing implications for power and tactical actions. In accordance with the power dependence theory, actors who are vastly committed to the important benefits will have less proficient power than a actor who is less committed (Bacharach & Lawler, 1976, 1981. 1986; Lawler & Bacharach, 1986). Furthermore, the paradox entails that high levels of commitment will lead to increased tactical attempts to manipulate the opposition, in so doing obtaining highly valued benefits (Bacharach & Lawler, 1981; Lawter & Bacharach, 1976, 1986). Therefore, the party with high power in the aforementioned terms may yield more to the opposition than predicted by their power position in the labour relationship (Lawler & Bacharach, 1986b).

(Link to CM)

Notably, the significance of the power dependence theory as variable to conflict management has been recognized and acknowledged by numerous researchers. Greenhalgh (1987) first noted that it is realistically reasonable to anticipate that the power experienced from whatever source will fully affect management or trade unions choice of conflict management style tactic. Greenhalgh (1987) further elaborated that any outcomes of conflict is situational bound and therefore depends on, amongst other indicators, factors such as power distribution and dependency between conflicting parties. Putnam and Poole (1987) on the other hand-reviewed empirical findings and thus found that preferences in regards to conflict management’s styles, differ across hierarchical levels, with superior management utilizing styles such as forcing or dominating and subordinate level management utilizing styles such as avoidance, collaboration and compilation when engaging in negotiations. Significantly, variation in conflict management styles may well reflect the power and status in the discrepancies in bargaining collectively (Ritov, 1997). According to a study conducted by Tjosvold and Okum (1979), within an experimental research setting, participant with low power will thus act more cooperatively and are hence more likely to use the obliging conflict management style than participants who have high levels of power. Similarly, Bacharach and Lawler (1981) argues that the conflict styles union and management therefore use are strongly linked to the level of power they have during negotiations.


According to Putnam and Wilson (1983) and Roche and Teague (2012), each individual’s conflict management style is influenced by the assessment of the bargaining conditions and any potential long-term implications that may occur. Hence, on the word of Ritov (1997), the choice of conflict management style unions and management choose to implement is presumably influenced by unions and managements power position in the in the collective bargaining relationship. In agreement with Ritov (1997), Bacharach and Lawler (1981) specified in their study that the aforesaid consideration is primarily meaningful when the one actor’s power is obtained in terms of the other actor’s dependence on them for future rewards or benefits. Blake and Mouton (1964), Rahim (1983) and Thomas and Kilmann (1974) identified five styles to effectively manage conflict. These five styles are as follows; competing (forcing, dominating), accommodating (obliging), avoiding (denial, withdrawal), collaborating (integrating) and compromising (negotiating).

The term competing (forcing, dominating) refers to a hard-line, aggressive and hard-nosed approach applied to conflict that is driven by power (Al-Hamdan, Shukri & Anthony, 2010). The competing conflict management style is described by Thomas, Thomas and Schaubhut, (2008) as low cooperativeness and high assertiveness in an attempt to satisfy an individual’s own concern at the other individual’s expense. The individual, therefore pursues their own personal goals without the consideration for others (Al-Hamdan et al., 2010). According McElhaney (1996) and Vivar (2006) the competing approach is suitable to use when a rash decision must be made or to protect an individual or a group from an aggressor or in and a state of emergency.

Accommodation (obliging) is characterised by high cooperativeness and low assertiveness (Al-Hamdan et al., 2010). By obliging or accommodating an individual sacrifices their own concern or opinion to satisfy another individual or group (Al-Hamdan et al., 2010; Thomas et al., 2008). Accommodation involves concessions, unrestricted agreements and offers of help (Al-Hamdan et al., 2010). According to Marriner (1982) and McElhaney (1996) the accommodation conflict management style encourages harmony and gains acknowledgment and credit that can be used in the future. Ibrahim and Kassim (2014) noted that in the accommodating style, managers might be more inclined to self-sacrificing, being generous or charitable, and therefore conforming to another individuals desires and would rather yield towards other individual’s point of view.

Avoiding (denial, withdrawal) on the other hand, neglects both conflicting parties concerns by postponing the conflicting issue (Thomas et al., 2008). The avoiding style is the outcome from low cooperativeness, low assertiveness and low concern for self and others (Keenan et al.,1998; Thomas et al., 2008). Keenan et al. (1998) elaborates that the avoiding style entails reducing the importance of a problem and trying to suppress any thoughts regarding the conflicting problem. The avoiding conflict management style refuses to address the conflicting problem and this approach style would be appropriate if the opposing party is more powerful (McElhaney, 1996).

Marriner (1982), identifies collaboration (integrating) as both high in cooperativeness and assertiveness. In line with Marriner (1982) research Thomas et al. (2008) concurs that collaboration involves an attempt to work with another party to find an integrative or win-win solution that can satisfy the concerns of both conflicting parties involved. The collaboration approach leads to mutually gratifying decisions-making (Al-Hamdan et al., 2010). According to Al-Hamdan et al. (2010) the collaboration process involves exchanging information about priorities and preferences, indicates insight and composes transitions between significant and insignificant issues, which indicates that each individual or group engages in the problem with equal consideration.

Lastly, compromising (negotiating) is an attempt by conflicting parties to find a middle-ground settlement that will only moderately satisfy each parties concern (Thomas et al., 2008). Al-Hamdan et al. (2010) evaluates the compromising approach as a having a fair concern for both the individual and the conflicting party. The compromising process entails intermediate levels in both cooperativeness and assertiveness (Al-Hamdan et al., 2010; Thomas et al., 2008). Rahim (1983) provides an in-depth analysis of the compromising conflict management style. The compromising style focuses on swift, mutually pleasing decisions that aims to moderately satisfy both parties (Rahim 1983). Al-Hamdan et al. (2010) further elaborates on Rahim’s (1983) statement by indicating that the compromising style emerges when there is negotiation and exchange amid conflicting parties. Furthermore, for every gain the party obtains they have to make a concession during the negotiation process (Al-Hamdan et al., 2010).

In contrast, if the chosen conflict management style is unsuitable to resolve the particular conflict situation this could lead to a variety of unintentional and unwanted consequences (Swanson, 2015). There is a vast amount of literature available on conflict management and conflict management styles. In addition, because of the rising response for harmonious workplace environments and production effective conflict management becoming a vital skill (Chan., Monroe & Tan, 2006), numerous researchers, as a result, conducted studies about the relationship of conflict management styles and various individual and situational factors (Vokić & Sontor, 2009).

In summary, the aforementioned evidence proposes that the perception of the management and union power, in the role of the opposition, is a crucial part of the cognitive situational assessment which directs each party’s choice of conflict management style (Ritov, 1997). Ritov (1997) suggested that the two major distinguishing factors of the opposing party’s power in accordance to empirical evidence are the possible future dependence on the opposing party and lastly the opposition parties control over benefit contingencies. This research study, therefore, hypothesize that in a collective bargaining environment, when trade unions are perceived as powerful, management will be less inclined to implement the dominating conflict management style. Moreover, management will be more prone to implement the avoiding, obliging, compromising, and integrating styles.

3.2 Expected contribution of the study

The proposed study will have the following practical and theoretical contributions to the individual, the organisation, and the literature.

3.2.1 Contribution to the individual

The objective of this research study is for both management and trade union to evolve a relationship of mutual gain and agreement. Thus, the research study will aim to achieve the collaboration of each individual union and management member by inspiring both sides to give up their one-sided agendas and therefore aim to develop a plan that is based on mutually approved professional interests. This will lead to an industrial relationship that will flourish in a climate of cooperation, mutual gain and trust by both management and union.

3.2.2 Contribution to the organisation

In the context of this study, the parties concerned, i.e. management and trade union, will gain a better understanding of their opponent’s conflict management style and level of power in regards to the collective bargaining process. This study could therefore assist both parties to identify what leads to dissatisfying as well as satisfying collective bargaining sessions. More so, data gathered from participants will also offer recommendations as to what the management and trade unions can do or implement to improve collective bargaining to achieve a stronger and sounder relationship between management and unions.

3.2.3 Contribution to Labour Relations literature

This study will be beneficial to the literature as it will contribute to the existing international and national-based research performed on the conflict management styles and power dependence and the collective bargaining process of management and trade unions. Additionally, the data of this study will elicit and arouse the thinking and perceptions held by management and trade unions. This research study may broaden the available knowledge regarding conflict management styles, power dependence and collective bargaining. Also, as to how conflict management styles and power dependence might influence management and trade unions participation in collective bargaining. Finally, this research study can promote further studies on how conflict management styles and power dependence influence management and trade unions participating in collective bargaining sessions.

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