BIPARTISM’S LINK WITH TRIPARTISM 4>Introduction - Industrial Relations Management

Introduction

The state of bipartite relations has an impact on the effectiveness of tripartism. However, it is necessary to be clear about what is meant by bipartism in this connection. In many Asian countries bipartism has been viewed as the relationship between each of the social partners separately with the government and public authorities. This view has been engendered by factors such as the power of some governments which have no equivalent in the West, the politicization of unions, or the power of employers in business friendly countries. This is not the sense in which the term bipartism is used. Bipartism in this context means the relationship (dialogue, dealings, negotiation) between the organizations of employers and employees, at the enterprise, industry and national levels.

Apart from the number of parties in the two relationships, there are several points of distinction between them. First, tripartism operates at the national, industry or provincial levels. It cannot simply that tripartism operates at that level, in the same way that though the State prescribes rules relating to marriage, it does not mean that the marriage relationship involves State participation. Even though labour inspection is a process undertaken by the State with a view to ensuring the observance of laws and rules required to be observed by enterprises, or at the enterprise level, it is not tripartism. Bipartism, on the other hand, operates at all three levels, more particularly and frequently at the enterprise level.

A second distinction is based on the subject matter. In tripartite dialogue issues addressed are policy-oriented. This is also the case in bipartite relationships when they occur at the national or industry level. At the workplace level issues relate to the particular workplace, and are of a more practical nature.

Third, in regard to parties to the dialogue, tripartite processes involve representatives of employers and employees, as does bipartism at the national, industry or provincial level. But at the enterprise level, there is less scope for the involvement of employers' organizations, though such involvement does occur in countries where the employers' organization negotiates on behalf of the employer in respect of workplace issues such as disputes and strikes, wages and terms and conditions of employment. However, it may be argued that when an employers' organization enters such negotiations, the matter is taken out of the enterprise level. Bipartism can take place at the enterprise level even if there is no union. It is conceivable for bipartism to operate in the same enterprise with or without a union at different levels. As in the case of joint consultation in Japan, bipartism may operate in the form of workplace information-sharing through group activities without the union, and at the corporate level through joint consultation committees consisting of management and union representation.There is an interplay and interaction between tripartism and bipartism. Since macro level decisions (which may be taken through tripartite consultation) have little value if they are not translated into practice at the enterprise level, bipartism can be a process for giving effect at the enterprise level to tripartite decisions. For example, Singapore's decision in the second half of the 1980s to introduce a flexible wage system was the result of a tripartite consensus. But implementation was determined on a bipartite basis, thus leaving employers and employees (and their representatives) to opt between a profitability or productivity model (or a combination of both). There are, of course, some tripartite decisions which do not call for implementation at the enterprise level, as in the case of social security schemes operative at the national level.

Bipartism is not a process intended only to give effect to tripartite decisions. With the increasing emphasis on workplace relations, macro level policies and decisions are influenced by what takes place, or what is needed to support practices, at the micro level. Further, the outcomes of bipartite relationships at the national, industry or provincial levels can have a major influence on tripartite consultation and macro level policies. A good example is Sweden, where in the 1960s and 1970s the labour market was regulated by the social partners and national policies reflected their agreements on labour market issues. In its most advanced form, bipartism may lead to 'social contracts' as evidenced in some of the Scandinavian countries and Germany, which define the basic relationship and objectives of the social partners in the labour market.

Tripartism can become an important means to settle issues when bipartism does not result in a consensus. When such failure leads to disputes, the State's involvement (including through conciliation and adjudication) brings into play the tripartite process.


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