In its widest meaning, industrial relations (IR) covers all aspects, individual and collective, of the relationship between employers and employees. The individual aspects include planning and all facets of staffing, such as the selection and placement of appropriate candidates, their integration into the organization, their training and development, their performance appraisal and proper compensation, productivity and discipline.
Where employees have formed a union, its relationship with management comprises labour-organization problems, union-certification procedures, the COLLECTIVE BARGAINING process, strike and dispute resolutions, grievance procedures and arbitration. The employment contract, some basic employment standards, health and safety questions, and all matters concerning anti-discrimination laws and charters of rights have both individual and collective implications (see also EMPLOYMENT LAW). Thus they are part of IR.
Law and economics are central to IR: law, because it regulates the employer-employee relationship, and economics, because the basic and fundamental problem of IR is always the distribution of the outputs of production. Sociology, psychology, political science, business administration, organizational behaviour, philosophy and computer science also contribute to a better understanding and functioning of individual and collective relationships.
There is controversy over whether IR is a discipline in itself - with its own theory and methodology - or a subject to be studied within a variety of disciplines. This question will probably never be resolved and partly explains the variety of approaches in the study of IR as well as the different structural arrangements found in institutions that teach it.
In some places a teaching department in IR, complete with its own staff and students, has been created as a distinct unit; in other places a centre for IR functions as a forum where professors of law, economics, sociology and other disciplines gather to discuss topics of mutual interest concerning employer-employee relationships. Courses in IR can all be gathered under one faculty or department, eg, a faculty of management or business administration, a department of economics or sociology; or they can be divided according to subject, eg, the study of wages in a department of economics, of trade-union movement and labour organizations in sociology, of collective bargaining and collective agreement in business administration. Some of these centres have developed courses and seminars for both management representatives and trade-union leaders and members. They can be the exclusive responsibility of the centre or part of the university extension or adult-education services.
The first Canadian university courses in IR were established at Queen's University in 1937, in the IR Section. Such courses continued until 1961, when the Section was replaced by a standard Industrial Relations Centre. Over two decades later, in 1983, Queen's opened its School of Industrial Relations, a full-time degree program leading to a Master of Industrial Relations (MIR) with a fairly high enrolment (around l0 students every year). In 1965, the University of Toronto established its own Centre for Industrial Relations; a graduate program leading to an MIR began in the late 1970s and a program leading to a PhD in the early 1980s. At UBC, an Institute of IR was established in 1960, but closed in the 1970s. At McGill University the IR Centre was established early (1948) in the Department of Economics and Political Science, transferred to the Faculty of Management in the early 1960s and was closed around 1990.
In French-speaking universities IR began early (1944) and was well-attended. In 1944 Université Laval opened its Department of IR, and Université de Montréal inaugurated its own teaching Department a few months later. Both these universities have had, since their beginning, teaching and degree-granting departments of IR. To put these dates in perspective, the first IR section of a North American university was created at Princeton, NJ, in 1922, and the famous New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, from which many Canadian specialists graduated, opened in 1945. Since 1970, Canadian Francophone universities have had graduate programs leading to master and doctoral degrees. Some of the local campuses of the Université du Québec offer IR programs under different names.
The universities with teaching departments, mainly Laval and Montréal, have always offered courses in human resources management and collective relationships. There are about 50 undergraduate courses, 15 of them required courses, distributed among 5 or 6 fields of study: theory and methodology, business and personnel administration, trade unionism and collective bargaining, labour legislation, labour and manpower economics. Graduate courses are offered in the same fields. In other universities, industrial relations courses, such as IR, labour relations, collective bargaining, labour law and arbitration procedures, usually concentrate on institutional aspects of collective-relationship problems. Subjects likely to be taught in the corresponding departments include labour economics and labour market analysis, industrial sociology, industrial psychology and labour history. Personnel administration and human resources are dealt with primarily in the administration curricula, eg, personnel administration, organizational behaviour, human resources management and human relations.
Despite the many difficulties in classifying and counting IR courses, one may estimate that in the late 1990s close to 100 Canadian universities offered almost 1000 courses in IR and HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT. The majority of them are undergraduate courses and are given by the faculties and departments of management, administration, economics, and sociology. They are attended by over 50 000 students. At the college level, courses on the same subjects are given - especially to commerce and administration students, who are more likely to study applied courses in order to find employment as high-ranking technicians.
Industrial relations graduates work mainly in personnel and human-resources departments of large and medium-size companies; in trade unions and labour organizations as researchers, organizers and consultants; and in governments and IR agencies, eg, labour relations boards and arbitration services. A few operate their own consulting firms. All these graduates compete directly with other professionals working in the same field - lawyers, administrators, industrial psychologists and on-the-job company trainees. In Québec there is a professional organization of IR specialists, the Order of Consultants. To be identified as a Conseiller en ressources humaines (ou) en relations industrielles, one must be a member of the Order of Consultants, in human resources or IR.
Laval and Queen's are responsible for most academic publications in IR. The Laval journal Relations industrielles/Industrial Relations, published since 1945 and bilingual since 1964, is recognized internationally. Queen's publishes a variety of studies; the best known is its annual Current Industrial Relations Scene in Canada. In 1978 Université de Montréal started an important series of monographs on legal aspects of IR problems.
Several universities publish the proceedings of their annual conferences, as does the Canadian Industrial Relations Association, a nonprofit, voluntary organization founded in 1963 that promotes IR research in Canada. The Laval journal is also the association's official publication. The longest-lived serial publication, The Labour Gazette, put out by the federal Department of Labour since 1900, fell victim to government cuts in 1980.
Author GÉRARD HÉBERT
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Labour History
This website documents the history of the labour movement and labour reform in Canada. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Labour Protest and Organization in Nineteenth-Century Canada, 1820-1890
This article provides detailed information about the history of the labour movement in Canada. From the journal "Labour."