Labour relations managers and officers, also known as industrial relations specialists, implement industrial labour relations programmes. When a collective bargaining agreement is up for negotiation, labour relations specialists prepare information for management to use during negotiation, which requires familiarity with economic and wage data as well as an extensive knowledge of labour law and collective bargaining trends.
Dispute resolution has become complex, involving employees, management, unions, other firms, and government agencies. Specialists involved in dispute resolution must be highly knowledgeable and experienced.
Industrial relations specialists also need to act as mediators by advising and counselling labour and management to prevent and, when necessary, resolve disputes over labour agreements or other labour relations’ issues. They may also act as arbitrators, umpires or referees, and decide disputes that bind both labour and management to specific terms and conditions of labour contracts. Labour relations specialists who work for unions, perform many of the same functions on behalf of a union and its members.
In South Africa, a human resources director usually formulates labour policy, oversees industrial labour relations, negotiates collective bargaining agreements, and coordinates grievance procedures to handle complaints resulting from disputes with employees who are members of a union. This is done either with or without the help of a labour relations manager, officer or outside specialist.
Industrial relations managers and officers also advise and collaborate with the director of human resources, other managers, and members of their staff, because all aspects of personnel policy such as wages, benefits, pensions and work practices, may be involved in drawing up a new or revised contract with a labour union.