Friday, August 7, 2009


By Oludeyi Olukunle Saheed,
Industrial And Labour Relations,
Tai solarin University of Education,
Ijagun, Ijebu Ode,

Of recent in one of our discussions, my friends and I were deliberating on what are the basic justifications for Industrial Relations to be classified as a social science course or discipline. It was from that conversation that I came to understand that some of us who study industrial relations and who love the course as a discipline cannot defend the assertion that ‘Industrial Relations belongs to the Social Sciences’. As such, my intention in this section is to defend the assertion that Industrial Relations is not only a subset but an active role-playing discipline under social sciences which no doubt is vast growing dramatically to attain its independence.
In justifying the above assertion therefore requires that we identify that the above argument comprises and compares two variables one of which is at a ‘macro’ level while the other is at micro level. These variables are social in nature which no doubt endeavours to study HUMAN INTERACTIONS as well as the consequences thereof. Social Sciences in this write-up thus refer to the macro variables while industrial relations refers to a micro one. However, to do justice to the assertion that Industrial Relations is a social science discipline requires that we give brief explanation of the two phrases.
SOCIAL SCIENCES: The word ‘Social’ simply can be seen as a purposeful relationship between or among persons in their social groups (Ogunbameru, 2006). Social Sciences thus refers to a discipline that tries to explain and predict the behaviour of individuals and groups. In those personal, intrapersonal and institutional level that are not biologically determined. Fagehinbo (2004) contends that social sciences is a branch of science and an organized integrated study of man and his environment both physical and social, emphasizing cognition functional skills, desirable attitudes and actions for the purpose of creating effective citizenry. ‘It is important to state that social sciences are science studies because of the systematic methodologies involved in making research, carrying out social investigation and making objective conclusion (Wale Atere, 1997).
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: This on the other hand is a discipline which consciously studies the complex and seemingly unfathomable relationship among people in the world of work with a view to install peaceful co-existence in organization and also helps meet the NEEDS of the people as well as that of organization. Simply put, it is the study of the relationship among government and its agency, employers and their representative and employees and their spokespersons. It is also the study of employment relationship which involves formulation and implementation of rules and policies needed to integrate all differences that exist among the people in the organization for effectiveness.
It can be deduced from the foregoing that industrial relation is a discipline on its own though a subset of the social sciences. It is also a social science which studies social relationships among people (although in institutional and organizational level). It seeks to provide understandings of certain fundamental issues underpinning the state of employment relationship in the society such as social security, social functioning and dysfunctioning, conflict, human management, remuneration and its implications etc. All these are products of social relationships that industrial relations takes care of on behalf of the social sciences.
In addressing those facts that authenticates industrial relations as a social science discipline, it is important that we ask certain questions as (1) what the two discipline study? (2)What is their objective? (3)What is the relationship between the two? The answer to the first question is not far fetched as it is clear from the explanation in the above that the two discipline studies individual and group relationships though under different contexts. This is one basic ground why industrial relations is classified as a social science discipline.
Answering the second question above also, it is obvious from all angle that the two discipline endeavour to achieve ‘advancement of mankind’. It means that while social sciences seek to improve personal, interpersonal and institutional relationship and provide capable citizenry in the larger society, industrial relations also endeavour to improve the living standard of the people in the society though fostering of harmonious employment relations.
While providing answer to the third question above, it can be perceived that the relationship between the two is completely a ‘dependent’ relationship. Professor John T. Dunlop in his system theory of Industrial Relations (1958) contends that industrial relations is a system and a sub-system of the larger social system (society) which consist of several sub-systems within it. All sub-systems within the social system (including industrial relations system) functions interdependently to ascertain the wholistic and effective functioning of the social system. This means that an attempt for one sub-system to dysfunction will obstruct the function of the entire social system. To an extent that can be said that the relationship between the two variables is a symbiotic one.
Furthermore, it can be added to the above submission that IRS is a social science discipline because:
- Social science seeks to ensure social order by preventing social dysfunction’s, IRS also seeks to ensure for organizational peace or orderliness.
- Social sciences studies geography and environmental management in other to ensure a save and conducive living environment for all. Industrial Relation also studies ‘ergonomics’ in other to ensure a save and hygienic working environment for people.
- There is study of ‘power relations’ in both disciplines while one studies power relations between government and citizens, the other studies power relations between employers and employees.
- Those theoretical frameworks that are useful in the social sciences are also applicable in the discipline of Industrial Relations.
- The two disciplines make use of the same procedure and methodology in carrying out research and investigating issues of concern.
The list of these is inexhaustible.
The above justify the assertion that IRS belongs to the social sciences. However, it must be noted that IRS is fast growing to attain its independent as a discipline. This is because of the pervasiveness of ‘employment’ to all human being in the society. Everybody in the society must do one thing or the other to feed himself and survive in the society. IRS which takes care of save employment relations therefore becomes an important resort house from which society derive solutions to predicaments that may emanate from employment relationships. Moreover, IRS is a crossroad where all other discipline meets. Other discipline includes law, politics, economics, accounting, psychology, history etc. The notion that IRS is a discipline that is limited to organizations should therefore be considered as MYOPIC.

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