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What are Industrial Relations?

“Industrial Relations” refers to all types of relations between employers and workers, be they at national, regional or company level; and to all dealings with social and economic issues, such as wage setting, working time and working conditions. Each industrial relations system is grounded in the national historical, economic, and political context and therefore differs from country to country. As part of industrial relations, social dialogue is key for communication and information sharing; for conflict prevention and resolution; and for helping overcome work-related challenges. Social dialogue has demonstrated its potential as an instrument for democratic governance and participation; a driver for economic stability and growth; and a tool for maintaining or encouraging peaceful workplace relations.

Why are Industrial Relations relevant to business?

Industrial relations are key for businesses because of their repercussions on the working environment and the production of goods and delivery of services. Given the differences between systems, prior to getting established in a given country, businesses have to properly study and understand the way in which industrial relations work there. For instance, they may want to know if collective bargaining occurs in a multi-employer context, or if collective agreements are extended to cover all workers and employers (even if they are not members of a trade union or an employers’ organisation); whether multiple trade unions are allowed in a given company and if all of them have a right to sign a collective agreement; or if unions tend to be highly conflictual and engage in collective disputes. Moreover, because of globalisation, new strategies to broaden industrial relations at the international level have emerged, such as through International Framework Agreements (IFAs) between a global union and a multinational company.

What is Business Africa’s position on Industrial Relations?

Business Africa believes that industrial relations systems cannot and should not be reduced to a single model: there is no one-size-fit-all. Countries need to develop their industrial relations systems based on their specific situations, without being pushed or compelled to adopt a particular model by any international or regional organisation. For social partners to be able to effectively engage in social dialogue and play a role in the industrial relations system, Business Africa firmly advocates for strong, responsible, independent, and above all, representative social partners.

How does Business Africa’s work in Industrial Relations advance the agenda for business?

Business Africa provides the platform for discussing industrial relations topics and brings together its members within the Industrial Relations Policy Working Group. In this Group, topics such as industrial action, collective bargaining systems, the collective rights of independent contractors, mediation, and dispute resolution mechanisms are debated with a view to finding common ground and issues of concern for employers. These discussions lead to Business Africa’s drafting of different policy papers, for instance on industrial action. Business Africa also provides a network for members to interact with each other on specific points of industrial relations policies.