When universal HR perspectives give way to contextual issues

Lessons from developing economies

John Opute, London South Bank University

There is evidence across many developed economies (particularly in Europe) that there continues to be growing importance of collective bargaining but in different forms and different models. For example, there is a seemingly increasing development towards works council ‘batching’ in some European countries just like we seem to notice ‘collective begging’ tendencies rather than collective bargaining in many developing economies. Extending this narrative to developing economies, highlights the extent to which recent developments might improve employment relations.

Many developing economies lack ‘consistent democracy’ leading to several infrastructural and societal challenges in business management. Their controversial evolution towards viable democratic structures has a considerable consequence for the wider world. On the other hand, the promotion of collective bargaining has created a new contour in the process of trade union development, which if properly harnessed, will lead to business efficacy and generate the so much heralded wealth for sustaining these economies. The paper reveals that employees are not necessarily searching for freedom of association (which is traditionally pursued by trade unions) but for recognition, which comes from understanding their orientation. Therefore, they wish their minds and hearts to be won by their employers, which is beyond ‘filling their pockets’ and sometimes beyond the roles of trade unions and collective agreements. Additionally, there has been significant literature on employee voice but understanding employer voice provides even a better platform for effective workforce participation.

This paper contributes to this issue with empirical evidences from some organisations by examining the evolution of collective bargaining and the sustainability of existing collective bargaining mechanisms and the collective agreements derivable from this process. There are significant differences in the practice of collective bargaining in several developing economies because of the varying contextual issues, not limited to the economic and political developments but also alluding to the maturity of the actors in the employment relations intuitions. It is apparent that theoretical arguments differ on the future of workforce participation in developing economies therefore empirical studies are needed to provide greater clarity and more robust discussions. One way of obtaining an in-depth understanding of the problems is to focus on a country where collective bargaining institutions have changed greatly within a fleeting period and Nigeria provides a good example for such an investigation for distinct reasons.

This case study approach is based on the analysis of recent industrial relations development and evidences from 11 multinational/local companies in the formal labour sector. This is complemented by semi-structured interviews and questionnaires with a variety of HR practitioners and employees.

In conclusion, this paper analyses some aspects of the trajectory of collective bargaining evolution albeit focusing on examining appropriate criteria for adopting a collective bargaining strategy, which provides the opportunity for both the employers and workforce to be more pragmatic. Furthermore, it demonstrates that collective bargaining has specific country orientations, reflecting the socio-economic predispositions of each country, the cultural paradigms and the connectivity of these issues.

Key words: Nigeria, participation, collective bargaining, trade unions, culture, socio-economic and developing economies.