Human Resource Management in Canada

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This research examined a current issue that human resource managers in Canada are likely to deal with at various times in their career. It relied on recent case studies.

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Introduction

Given the wave of strikes and labor issues that have been sweeping across the country for the last few years, it is important for human resource managers to ensure they adopt the right practices to prepare their organizations for such challenges. Examples of organizations that have been involved in labor strikes in the last one year include Hydro One, Elopak, and Ontario colleges among others. Provinces like Ontario have witnessed increased cases of collective bargaining since 2010 (Rose, 2013). Some of the changes that unions are likely to be after include an improvement of wage structures, compensation, and working hours (Middlemiss, 2017). Therefore, human resource managers need to be adequately prepared to deal with labour issues that might affect work in their organizations. Adopting the best practices in labour relations ensures that an organization is ready to address any labour challenges that might arise (LaVan & Katz, 2013). This paper will review the available literature on labour relations in the wake of increasing strikes in Canada.

Critical Analysis (Literature Review)       

The element of having a third party that can shape the relationship between an employer and employees requires human resource managers to be prepared to deal with the third party while representing the other two parties. Employment contracts are usually signed between an employee and their employer (Kreissl, 2012). However, in unionized organizations, employees entrust unions with the responsibility of representing them in negotiations with their employers. Such negotiations set rules about working conditions, salaries, and other benefits. Unions are supposed to ensure employers treat their members fairly (Kreissl, 2012). Therefore, unions use legal means to get the best deal on behalf of all their members. The nature of having a third party playing such an important role that can affect the relationship between an employer and workers has offered some of the organizations an excuse to have poor human resource management practices (Kreissl, 2012). Human resource managers who fail to ensure their organizations have adopted the best practices often cite the differences between non-union organizations and an organization whose employees are members of a union. Some of the human resource managers have a wrong perception about unions. They treat unions as rivals (Kreissl, 2012). Some even think that unions are always ready to thwart any changes that they may introduce which are likely to change employee’s working conditions. This fear emerges even when some of the organizations plan to introduce innovative changes that are likely to improve employees experience at the organization. According to Kreissl (2012), human resource managers should not be this paranoid. They should not treat unions with such great suspicion. Moreover, union leaders are rational beings who are likely to consider how proposed innovative policies are likely to affect their employees before deciding whether or not to take action. In the event that the proposed changes are not likely to put employees at any disadvantage, union leaders would not get involved (Kreissl, 2012). Therefore, human resource managers should not be worried about union leadership when implementing innovative practices that are likely to benefit employees. They should know that most of the human resource issues rarely catch the attention of unions unless they are likely to affect remuneration and performance management programs (Kreissl, 2012).

In addition, human resource managers need to remember that anything which the collective agreement does not forbid expressly lies within actions that are protected by the management rights. Such rights acknowledge the responsibility of the management of organizations to run their businesses by engaging in what is perceived to be fair game (Kreissl, 2012). At a time when the wave of strikes has been sweeping across the nation, it is common for many human resource managers to be concerned about the likelihood of their workplace becoming unionized. However, such fears should not arise unless an organization has been treating its employees unfairly. As Kreissl (2012) pointed out, organizations usually get the unions they deserve. In other words, organizations will end up with what they may call a bad union if they have been treating their employees unfairly. In some cases, employees might feel that an organization is not treating all employees fairly, especially if there are indications of exploitation of some of the workers (McQuarrie, 2015). A good example of such cases was the Ontario college strike towards the end of last year. This particular strike involved the teaching staff in Ontario’s colleges and universities. The workers were striking to have the employment policy amended to have all teaching staff receive equal treatment (Chiose, 2017). The striking lecturers noted that their employer had kept more than seventy percent of them on a contract basis. This meant that their working conditions and compensation were different from those of the permanent staff. For example, some of the lecturers who were employed on a contract basis did not have offices in the institutions where they taught (Fitzpatrick, 2017). This meant they did not have a place where their students would make an appointment to see them for consultation. At the same time, their contracts used to expire after four months, thus requiring them to re-apply to continue working. In some of the cases, many of them would find themselves in a position where they could not know whether or not they would teach in the following semester (Fitzpatrick, 2017). Moreover, contract teaching staff were paid as low as a third of what their permanent colleagues were getting for the same work. Those lecturers who were on a contract were not eligible for pension and health benefits (Fitzpatrick, 2017). With this kind of inequality and unfairness, it was expected that unions representing the teaching staff in Ontario’s colleges would get highly militant if the employer refused to heed their demands. The striking Ontario college workers received support from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, who estimated that more than 30 percent of the Canadian professors were employed on a contract (Donnelly, 2018). In another incidence, workers at Elopak had also gone on strike because of similar reasons. Many of them had been employed on a contract, which meant that they were at a disadvantage compared to their peers. Eventually, the workers’ union agreed to call off the strike after the organization accepted to stop hiring workers on a contract and to train the current contract workers and absorb them as permanent employees (Canadian Labour Reporter, 2018). From the employer’s perspective, having more workers on contracts appears to be an advantage because it gives the employer the upper hand. In such cases, the employer can control the workforce easier than when all employees are members of a union. However, such arrangements often result in unfair treatments, especially if the management in such organizations is not keen to treat its employees fairly (Fitzpatrick, 2017).

Human resource practices with regard to labour relations in various organizations differ significantly. Good practices require human resource managers to manage the labour relations climate in a good way that can lead to beneficial outcomes. Poor practices and reactions are also common in some of the cases (Kreissl, 2012). For example, many employees sometimes find themselves in a hard position when they demand better working conditions. Poor human resource relations allow an adversarial environment to thrive, which makes the management perceive some of the workers as enemies of an organization. When this happens, the management often resorts to taking severe disciplinary actions against its employees for minor transgressions (Kreissl, 2012). Eventually, such reactions make things worsen leading to more losses on the part of the concerned organizations. According to Furlong (2017), the way the management approaches the issue of a management-union relationship determines whether an organization will have a productive environment where all employees feel engaged or one that will be characterized by problems, constant grievances, and conflict. When choosing its preferred approach, management should be concerned about possible consequences of its actions such as increased absenteeism, productivity, recruitment, and retention (Furlong, 2017). Therefore, it is important for organizations to embrace human relations best practices to ensure they have a good relationship with their workers and unions even when they are engaged in negotiations for better working conditions (Kreissl, 2012).

Good human resource managers should ensure their organizations have a good relationship with unions. To begin with, human resource managers should implement programs for joint training for stewards and supervisors (Furlong, 2017). Most of the organizations often offer training to their employees to build their skills. When some of the employees are elected to join the union, some organizations perceive them to be working for another party. As such, a significant number of organizations do not train employees who are elected to unions to equip them with the relevant skills (Furlong, 2017). It is worth noting that employees do not cease to work for their organizations when they become union representatives. Therefore, organizations should make arrangements to train such employees to enable them to develop skills that can be beneficial to both their unions and organizations. Such training programs should aim at developing problem-solving skills of the affected employees (Furlong, 2017). Such initiatives are likely to benefit organizations greatly because it would mean that union representatives are capable of solving problems at the front line. A good training program should involve both union stewards and an organization’s supervisors. This would empower supervisors and union representatives to identify and resolve challenges together. This would result in fewer cases being pushed to the grievance process, which is characterized by delays (Furlong, 2017). Therefore, training union stewards and organization’s supervisors jointly would result in an effective front-line interface that would improve productivity and prevent unnecessary losses that are often associated with an ineffective front-line interface (Furlong, 2017).

In addition, training programs should aim at ensuring organizational managers, workers, and union representatives understand an organization’s disciplinary process. Failure to ensure that all relevant stakeholders understand the disciplinary process often leads to the wrong reaction to a disciplinary process or poor application of discipline (Furlong, 2017). Managers implement discipline poorly when they consider it to be the first action they should take. Proper training helps managers and supervisors appreciate that their role is to help workers to avoid repeating the mistakes they have done in future. Managers should be friendly and supportive when an employee makes a mistake. They should use formal discipline as the last option if an employee’s bad behaviour persists (Furlong, 2017). On the other hand, some of the employees may become disengaged, frustrated, or angry when they feel that the organization has not been fair to them. It is recommendable to have a well-defined disciplinary procedure that includes a discussion with an employee about the desired behavioral changes. In other words, there should not be any surprises when it comes to the disciplinary process. Furthermore, it should be acceptable for the management and union to ensure each party treats the worker fairly (Furlong, 2017).

Another good practice would be to have labor-management committees at the workplace. This is a forum through which issues that affect employees in an organization can be solved within the shortest time possible (Furlong, 2017). The management should ensure that their employee relations committee has proper guidelines that can prevent them from becoming dysfunctional (Furlong, 2017). Committees that do not have adequate guidelines often find themselves in constant conflicts that interfere with the quality of the work they do. In particular, such committees should have well-defined problem-solving procedures. After labour relations committee identifies problems at the workplace, they should have guidelines on how to collect the required data for that particular issue (Furlong, 2017). The collected data should inform the committee which action it should take. Having clear procedures helps a lot in eliminating unnecessary arguments that are likely to arise when trying to find a solution. As Furlong (2017) noted, arguments amongst committee members polarize the ability of the committee to find a good solution to the problem at hand (Furlong, 2017).

Lastly, ensuring there is proper communication between an organization and a union can go a long way in averting possible industrial actions that could affect an organization’s performance adversely. Furlong (2017) pointed out that simple communication between the two parties is not sufficient. Human resource managers should encourage over-communication so as to eliminate the element of surprise. None of the two parties should surprise the other with new demands or abrupt actions. Therefore, human resource managers should encourage joint commitment between employers and unions to keep each other informed the relevant developments and expectations (Furlong, 2017). At this point, it is important to emphasize that human resource managers should be careful with how they deal with the information that a union presents. An organization often puts itself in a risky position when it is tempted to use the confidential information it obtains to the disadvantage of a union. When that happens, the affected union can prepare to get even in the future, which may end up putting the organization at a disadvantage. Therefore, human resource managers should promote healthy management-union relationships that are devoid of any surprises or tricks (Furlong, 2017). One of the times when both parties should communicate accurately and in good faith is when a new collective agreement has been finalized. Even though both parties have a responsibility to communicate to different stakeholders, their communication should be jointly crafted (Furlong, 2017). A problem is often likely to arise if the management communicates to its supervisors messages that conflict what the union communicates to its membership. Therefore, human resource managers should promote healthy communication relations to avoid unnecessary problems that can arise after signing a new collective agreement (Furlong, 2017).

Conclusion

Canada has experienced several industrial actions in the last one year. Going by the last one year’s trend, it is expected that the country will experience more strikes this year. Human resource managers can avert some of the strikes by encouraging a healthy relationship between their organizations and respective unions. One way of doing so is by treating all employees fairly. Organizations should ensure they are not using contracts to put a majority of their employees at a disadvantaged position compared to their peers who are employed on permanent terms. Moreover, some of the problems can be solved by training union representatives in an organization together with supervisors to equip them with important skills to resolve problems before they get out of hand. However, it is important to appreciate that many strikes are beyond the management’s ability to prevent. This is because unions sometimes come up with many demands that are too high for organizations to accept. This paves way for negotiations. It is important for human resource managers to ensure their organizations attend such negotiations in good faith and ready to find a solution. Throughout its dealings with unions, an organization should promote healthy relationships by engaging in transparent communication. Such communication should leave no room for tricking each other of surprising each other with a set of information that had not been disclosed earlier.

References

Canadian Labour Reporter. (2018). Strike ends as workers agree to new contract at Elopak in Boisbriand, Que. Retrieved from http://www.labour-reporter.com/article/37347-strike-ends-as-workers-agree-to-new-contract-at-elopak-in-boisbriand-que/

Chiose, S. (2017). Locked in labour dispute, Ontario colleges, union risk Monday instructor strike. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/locked-in-labour-dispute-ontario-colleges-union-risk-monday-instructor-strike/article36592173/

Donnelly, B. (2018). Taking stock of an Ontario labor battle. Retrieved from https://socialistworker.org/2018/01/04/taking-stock-of-an-ontario-labor-battle

Fitzpatrick, M. (2017). Ontario College strike spotlights ‘new norm’ of precarious labour in academia. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ontario-college-strike-academia-1.4364735

Furlong, G. T. (2017). Best practices for union-management relationship in the workplace. Retrieved from https://irc.queensu.ca/articles/best-practices-union-management-relationship-workplace

Kreissl, B. (2012). HR in a unionized environment. Retrieved from http://www.hrreporter.com/columnist/hr-policies-practices/archive/2012/02/22/hr-in-a-unionized-environment/

LaVan, H., & Katz, M. (2013). Current state of management/union relations in hospitality sector. Hospitality Review, 30(2), 73-89.

McQuarrie, F. A. (2015). Industrial relations in Canada.

Toronto: Wiley Publishers.

Middlemiss, N. (2017). What HR can expect from unions in 2017. Retrieved from https://www.hrmonline.ca/hr-news/what-hr-can-expect-from-unions-in-2017-219662.aspx

Rose, J. (2013). Austerity in blues: Public sector bargaining rights in the United States and Canada. Labor Law Journal, 64(4), 189-197.

October 24, 2023
Category:

Business Economics

Number of pages

10

Number of words

2685

Downloads:

25

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