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Employment Relations BUSM 1084 (AD443)

Individual Assignment

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2

2. Aspects of Conflict 3

3. Comparison and Contrast of Conflict 3

4. Micro Level 4

4.1 Employee 4

4.2 Management 5

5 Macro Level 6

5.1 Unions

5.2 Government 7

6 Conclusion 9

7 Reference List 10

Yang Chia Tyng, Zoe 1

Employment Relations BUSM 1084 (AD443)
Individual Assignment

1 Introduction

Conflict is a persistent fact of organisational life (Bartunek, 1992). Conflict is defined as

the perceived incompatible differences that result in interference or opposition (Robbins,

Bergman, Stagg and Coulter, 2000). “Employment relations” refers to the relationship

between managers and their employees. “Industrial relations” is a subset of employment

relations and focus on the relationship between management and union that are involved

with collective bargaining, conciliation and arbitration (Tan, 2004, p1). Therefore in this

paper the “micro” and “macro” levels of employment relations, the different perspectives

of each of the parties (employees, management, unions and government) with regard to

the types of open and hidden symptoms of conflicts, the link between conflicts and the

Tripartite Government-Union-Management (GUM) model and most importantly, on how

conflicts at each level can be prevent, managed and solved are discussed.

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Employment Relations BUSM 1084 (AD443)
Individual Assignment

2 Aspects of Conflict

Conflict exists in both employment relations and industrial relations. Conflict can arise

while groups performed its assigned tasks or when people compete for limited resources

(Tan and Torrington, 1998). Organisations are viewed as coalitions of competing interest,

and where conflict is too common and too obviously based on genuinely different

interests, (Chew and Chew, 1996, p.244). Conflicts in both aspects are inevitable.

3 Comparison and Contrast of Conflict

Open conflict includes expressing feelings through verbal or body language. Open

disagreements and face to face arguments where it is easily seen are termed as an ‘Overt’

or ‘Interpersonal’ conflict.

Hidden conflict is when people try to conceal their annoyance from one another.

Disagreement is not expressed or openly visible to the other individual or group but

indirect actions are expressed to show unhappiness or grievances (Robbins, 2003). This

is termed as a ‘Covert’ or ‘Intrapersonal’ conflict. Hidden conflict tends to occurs behind

the senior management. Whispering or “corridor gossips” among the lower management

are symptoms of hidden conflict emerging from the organization. (Guttman, H.M., 2003)

Open conflict is more collective, organised and confrontational which takes place in the

form of protests and strikes. Hidden conflict is individual, spontaneous, unorganised

(Deery, Plowman, Walsh and Brown, 2001) and takes place in the more subtle form of

absenteeism, accidents, turnovers and even sabotage (Tan, 2004).

Yang Chia Tyng, Zoe 3

Employment Relations BUSM 1084 (AD443)
Individual Assignment

4 Micro Level

At the individual or “micro” level, it refers to the person-to-person relationship

between managers and their employees, or between supervisors and their

subordinates. Such relationship is usually informal.


Conflict in the workplace is unavoidable as frictions may occur between individuals,

groups of workers, and various levels of authority within the firm. (Roger Bennett,

1997, p.10). Hidden symptoms of conflict could be attributed to poor

communications, which include poor co-ordination of activities, unclear authority

structures, inflexible and insensitive attitudes and excessively formal personal

relationships among employees (Roger Bennett, 1997, p.11). These factors lie right at

the heart of conflict situations causing employees feeling discontented and de-

motivated. Consequently, employees fear turning up for work and thus they either

absent themselves from work or change jobs or in extreme cases, take revenge

through sabotage. Besides poor communications, petty status and wage differentials,

which represent conflicts of interest, could also encourage aggressive as well as

unhealthy behaviour among individuals and groups.

This is one of my experiences that I have encountered at my past job experience in a

Construction Company as an accounting assistant. I was new to the company and

tried to do as much job as I could so to familiarise myself to the company as soon as

possible. My manager was very happy to see me working so hard and actually praised

me in front of my other senior colleagues and compared me to them. I never realised

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Employment Relations BUSM 1084 (AD443)
Individual Assignment

what I did actually offended them till my other colleagues start giving me more work

load that is out of my job scope and giving me different reasons for not having lunch

with me. They never voice out their dissatisfaction and when time passes, I just felt so

left out from the group and automatically resigned from the company.

Hidden conflict is usually unknown thus leading it to be unsolvable, it is better to

bring it to the surface so that it can be resolved. Negotiation is used to solve open

conflict as it is the process of discussing a subject matter with the objective of

reaching an agreement (Rose, 2001). Whereas for hidden conflict it could only be

prevent by ensuring a harmonious working environment.

4.2 Management

Among management level, conflict may arise as different levels of people in the

organization will have different interest thus leading to variability among those who

are classified as managers and those who are seen as non-managers. (Tan and

Torrington, 1998). Thus, it is crucial for a manager to understand and practise conflict

management at their organisational level (Robbins, 2003). Manager has to know their

own basic conflict-handling style as each manager has a preferred style for handling

conflicts (Robbins et al, 2000). Managers have five options of conflict-resolution

approaches to manage conflicts according to their assertiveness and cooperativeness

on the job. Options to solve open conflict include accommodating, forcing,

compromising, collaborating and avoiding (Robbins, 2003). Hidden conflict could be

prevented and resolved through providing employees counselling or a channel of

expressing their hidden grievances Providing employees a channel to express and

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Employment Relations BUSM 1084 (AD443)
Individual Assignment

solve their grievances in a more positive and practical manner, rather than articulate

their hidden feelings through negative ways like absenting themselves from work or

quitting their job. In 1988, there is a case that MRT drivers take sick leave in

“protest” over work benefits. This shows that how serious hidden grievances could

lead to conflicts when it is not paid attention.

5 Macro Level

Unionised organisation is examined at the macro level and it becomes a formal

relationship between the management of a company and the union which represents the

employees. Sometimes, government may intervene, it is known as the tripartite system.

(Tan, 2004)

5.1 Unions

Trade unions are defined as an association of wage earners formed for the purpose of

maintaining and improving the conditions of their working lives (Foo, Chan, Ong, 1991).

In order to maintain good industrial relations, it is essential to establish a fair and

effective balance between rights and responsibilities that will promote partnership, not

conflict, at the workplace (Hollinshead, Nicholls, Tailby, 1999, pg204). In Singapore,

workers may be represented by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) as a general

union, by an industry union or by a house union and likewise, management may be

represented by Singapore National Employers’ Federation (SNEF). However,

management may also be a large company which prefers to conduct independent

collective bargaining, as in the case of Singapore Telecom (Chew and Chew, 1996).

Yang Chia Tyng, Zoe 6

Employment Relations BUSM 1084 (AD443)
Individual Assignment

Collective bargaining consists of negotiation between employers and employees about

working conditions and terms of employment, with a view to reaching agreement (Tan,

2004, p198). It constitutes matters related to salary and conditions of employment. Most

of the matters relating to payment of salary and benefits are specified in the Employment

Act in Singapore. Hence, collective bargaining tends to focus on non-statutory benefits

(Tan, 2004). If collective bargaining fails, they will proceed to conciliate at the Ministry

of Manpower (MOM). It would then be brought to the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC)

if conciliation is unsuccessful. Arbitration is the submission of dispute to a neutral third

party (Werther and Davis, 1996, p541).

5.2 Government

Strong partnerships based on mutual trust and purpose between the government, union

and management are necessary to establish good employment relationships. Hence, the

Singapore employment relations system models the tripartite GUM model, which through

collective bargaining, teamwork and active dispute settlement, the three social partners is

able to achieve stability in the system (Tan, 2004). Negotiation, collective bargaining,

grievance procedures, arbitration, mediation and conciliation are practiced in the GUM

model. Open and hidden conflict can be clearly shown in the case of Singapore Airlines

(SIA) where unions and government step in. At the beginning when the pilots realised

that they would no longer be getting a fixed high based salary, hidden conflict arise as the

pilots are unhappy about the final decision and disputes arise. When the pilots voiced out

verbally, the issue became an open conflict, as the pilot’s union ALPHA-S was involved

in dealing with SIA management. Due to the seriousness of the SIA case, Senior

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Employment Relations BUSM 1084 (AD443)
Individual Assignment

Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, stepped in and ensure industrial peace is obtained. Several

employment relation laws such as the Industrial Relations Act, the Employment Act, the

Trade Union Act and the Factory Act are created by the government to solve conflicts

and maintain harmonious industrial relations (Tan, 2004).

Environment The Tripartite GUM Model- Diagram 2

Participants Outcome

Economic Union
Industrial peace
Political Management
Investment growth
Legal Mechanism
Quality of work life
Social Team Work
Ecological Collective Bargaining
Dispute Settlement Productivity
Labour Market
Process Mutual thrust
Social justice
Shared Values Tripartism

Tripartite GUM Model (Adapted from Tan, 2004)

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Employment Relations BUSM 1084 (AD443)
Individual Assignment

6 Conclusion

In conclusion, although the government, union and management each have their

own divergent goals, a shared understanding of each other’s role in the industrial

relations system is established. The three parties realise the seriousness of having conflict

in the organisation and the importance to achieve economic growth and stability hence

giving rise to the emergence of tripartite partnerships. By fostering good employment

relations and a harmonious settlement of conflict, the ultimate goal of industrial peace

and enhancing the well-being of organisations and their employees is thus achieved.

Yang Chia Tyng, Zoe 9

Employment Relations BUSM 1084 (AD443)
Individual Assignment

Reference List

1. Bartunek. K, Hidden Conflict in Organisations, Sage Publications, United States

of America

2. Chew Soon Beng and Chew, R. (eds) 1996, Industrial Relations in Singapore

Industry, Addison-Wesley, Singapore

3. Dahliwal, R. and Yaw Yan Chong, 1988, MRT drivers take sick leave in ’protest’

over work benefits, The Straits Times, 31st Mar

4. Deery, S., Plowman, D., Walsh, J. and Brown, M., 2001, Industrial Relations: A

Contemporary Analysis, McGraw-Hill, Australia

5. Ed Rose, 2001, Employment Relations, Pearson Education Limited, Great Britain

6. Foo, C. T., Chan, C. H. and Ong, D., 1991, A Primer on Collective Bargaining,

McGraw Hill, Singapore

7. Guttman, H. M., 2003, When Goliath Clash, managing executive conflict to build

a more dynamic environment, AMACOM, USA, New York

8. Hollinshead, G., Nicholls, P., and Tailby, S., 1999, Employee Relations, Financial

Times, Great Britain

9. Lee, R. 2004, ‘SM to pilots: Quit at own risk.’ The Straits Times, 6 Jan, p. H5.

10. Robbins, S.P. 2003, Organizational Behavior, 10th Edition, Prentice Hall, USA

11. Robbins, S.P., Bergman, R., Stagg, I. and Coulter, M, 2000, Management, 2nd

Edition, Prentice Hall, Australia

12. Roger Bennett, 1997, Employment Relations, Pearson Professional Ltd, Great


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Employment Relations BUSM 1084 (AD443)
Individual Assignment

13. Tan Chwee Huat, 2004, Employment Relations in Singapore, 4th Edition. Prentice

Hall, Singapore

14. Tan Chwee Huat and Torrington, D. 1998, Human Resource Management For

Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, Prentice Hall, Singapore

15. Werther, W.B., and Davis, JR.K., 1996, Human Resource and Personnel

Management, 5th Edition, McGraw-Hill, USA

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