Grievance and Dispute Settling Machinery

Grievances and Disputes

Labour relations involve more than negotiating a labour agreement. In fact, the real test of effective labour relations begins after agreement is signed. The acid test is found in the day-to-day administration of the agreement. It has been said that management usually gives away more in the administration of an agreement than in the negotiation of the agreement. Similarly, unions may feel that they sometimes lose in application of what they thought they had gained at the bargaining table. Hence, the administration of a collective bargaining agreement is a matter of substantial concern to both management and labour because it is here that a number of grievances arise which need to be resolved every day.


  • A grievance is an alleged violation of the rights of workers on the job. It may occur in one of several forms:
  • As a violation of the collective bargaining agreement
  • As a violation of Central or State laws
  • As a violation of past practice
  • As a violation of company rules
  • As a violation of management’s responsibility.

According to Michael .J. Jucuis, the term grievance means any discontent or dissatisfaction whether expressed or not and whether valid or not, arising out of anything connected with the company that an employee thinks, believes or even feels, is unfair, unjust or inequitable this definition is very broad and covers dissatisfactions which have the following characteristics:

  • The discontent must arise out of something connected with the company. Workers may be dissatisfied because of several reasons, e.g., illness in the family, quarrel with a neighbour, disliking for the political party in power, and so on. Such outside sources are beyond the control of the company and, therefore, do not constitute a grievance.
  • The discontent may be expressed or implied. Expressed grievances are comparatively easy to recognize and are manifested in several ways, e.g., gossiping, jealousy, active criticism, argumentation, increased labour turnover, carelessness in the use of tools and materials, untidy housekeeping, poor workmanship, etc.

Unexpressed grievances are indicated by indifference to work, daydreaming, absenteeism, tardiness, etc. It is not wise to recognize only expressed grievances and overlook the unexpressed ones. In fact, unexpressed or implied grievances are more dangerous than the expressed ones because it is not known when they may explode. Hence, the executive should develop a seventh sense for anticipating grievances. He should be sensitive to eve the weak and ‘implied’ signals from the employee.

An employee may casually remark that it is too hot in the room or that he has been assigned a job that he does not like. All such casual remarks and grumbling are grievances by implication. Only for a painstaking and observant supervisor is it possible to discover what is bothering employees before they themselves are aware of grievances. The personnel department can be helpful by training supervisors to become proficient in observing employees. The techniques of attitude surveys and statistical interpretations of trends of turnover, complaints, transfers, suggestions, etc are also helpful in this connection.

The discontent may be valid, legitimate and rational or untrue and irrational or completely ludicrous. The point is that when a grievance held by an employee comes to the notice of the management it cannot usually dismiss it as irrational and untrue. Such grievances also have to be attended to by the management in the same way, as rational grievances. We should know that a large part of our behaviour is irrational. This may be largely due to our distorted perception. Emotional grievances which are based upon sentiments (like love, hatred, resentment, anger, envy, fear, etc), misconceptions and lack of thinking are examples of our irrational behaviour. These grievances are the most difficult to handle.

One advantage of giving a widest possible meaning to the term grievance is that the possibility of the manager overlooking any complaints is very much reduced.

Even those discontents, which have not yet assumed great importance for the complainant and have therefore not moved into formal procedural channels- such as casual remarks or grumbling  technically called complaints, come within the purview of the grievance handling machinery of the organization and are removed in the course.

Causes of grievances

The causes of grievances may broadly be classified in the following categories;

  • Grievances resulting from working conditions:
  • Improper matching of the worker with the job.
  • Changes in schedules or procedures.
  • Non-availability of proper tools, machines and equipment for doing the job.
  • Tight production standards.
  • Bad physical conditions of workplace
  • Failure to maintain proper discipline (excessive discipline or lack of it, both are equally harmful)
  • Poor relationship with the supervisor.

Grievances resulting from management policy:

  • Wage payment and job rates.
  • Seniority
  • Transfer
  • Promotion, demotion and discharges
  • Lack of career planning and employee development plan
  • Lack of role clarity, delegation, etc
  • Lack of regard for collective agreement
  • Hostility toward labour union.

Grievances resulting from personal maladjustment:

  • Over-ambition
  • Excessive self-esteem
  • Impractical attitude to life, etc.

Grievance Procedure

Machinery for Handling Grievances

Every organization has need for a continuing process of conciliation to facilitate settlement of controversies and to assure an employee with a grievance that his case will be given a hearing. One of the important jobs of front-line supervisors is to handle problems with employees’ right on the spot to mutual satisfaction of workers and management. Inevitably grievances will arise that cannot be easily settled by the parties immediately concerned at the outset. The supervisor himself may be the course of the grievance in the worker’s mind. For this reason an organization needs a standing procedure or machinery for orderly redressal of grievances. The machinery makes provision for appeal up the ladder to top-level management. In situations where union contracts so provide, grievances not otherwise settled may be sent to arbitration. Morale is boosted by speedy disposition of grievances handled in conformance with set procedures.

A grievance procedure is a graduated series of steps arranged in a hierarchy of increasing complexity and involvement. The number of steps in a grievance procedure vary with the size of organization. A small organization may have only two steps the supervisor and the manager but a big organization may have as many as ten steps. The first and the last steps are almost always the same for all organisations. Though a labour union is not essential to the establishment and operation of a grievance procedure, one is assumed in the schematic diagram of a four-step grievance procedure, which is shown in the diagram below.

Dispute Resolution Process

As shown in the diagram, the front-line supervisor is always accorded the first opportunity to handle grievances. He is the first rung of the ladder. If the concerned is unionized, a representative of the union may also join him. This step is very necessary to preserve the authority of the supervisor over his workers. But all grievances cannot be handled by the supervisor because many of them involve issues or policies, which are beyond limits of the authority. There may be some grievances, which he may fail to redress and find solution for. Hence provision is made for a second step in handling grievances. The second step may be the personnel officer himself or some middle-level line executive. If the concern is unionized, some higher personnel in the union hierarchy may join him. It should, however, be remembered that by injecting the personnel officer into the procedure at this step and by giving him authority to overrule and reserve the decision of the supervisor the fundamental principle of line and staff relation is violated.

A third step is constituted by the top management to handle grievances involving company wide issues. In this step the top union representatives join. The redressal of grievance becomes complex and difficult because by now they acquire political hues and colours. If the grievance has not been settled by top management and top union leadership then in the fourth and final step it may be referred to an impartial outside person called an “arbitrator”. The two possibilities are that the issue may be temporarily or permanently dropped or the workers may go on strike.

The Open-door Policy

Some managers do not share the view that there should be a formal grievance procedure and that grievances should go through a graduated series of steps. In their opinion there should be a general invitation to all employees to informally drop in any time and talk over their grievances. At first glance, this policy may appear very attractive but it has the following limitations.

This policy is workable only in small organisations. In big organizations where management by exception is practiced; the top management does not have the time to innumerable routine grievances daily, which is the work of lower-level managers.

Under this policy the front-line supervisor who should be the first man to know about the grievances of his sub-ordinates is bypassed. This provokes him in two ways:

First, he thinks the man who skipped him is disrespectful. Secondly, he fears that he will incur his superior’s displeasure because this will be interpreted by the superior as his failure to handle his sub-ordinates.

By following an open-door policy the top management cannot have adequate clues to assess supervisor’s skill in handling grievances. It does not know what action, if any; the supervisor would have taken to resolve a grievance.

Top management is likely to be too unfamiliar with the work situation in which the grievances developed to be able to correctly evaluate the information that it gets. There may be several levels of management between the operative employee and the top executive of a company. Theoretically, each level affords an equal opportunity for distortion, fading and delay of certain facts on which a complaint may be based.

Though the door of the executives office remains physically open, psychological and social barriers prevent employees from actually entering it. Some employees hesitate to be singled out as having a grievance. Others are afraid they will incur their supervisor’s disfavour.

Sometimes an open-door policy is used to hide the top management’s own hesitation to make contacts with the operatives and the open door is often a sign to conceal closed minds.

The way an open-door can be most effective is for a manager to walk through it and get out among his people. The open door is for managers to walk through, not employees. The true test of such a policy is whether the top man behind the door has an open-door attitude and his employees psychologically free to enter.

Desirable Features of a Grievance Procedure

A grievance procedure should incorporate the following features:

  • Conformity with existing legislation. The procedure should be designed to supplement the existing statutory provisions. Where practicable, the procedure can make use of such machinery as the law might have already provided for.
  • The grievance procedure must be accepted by everybody. In order to be generally acceptable it must ensure (a) a sense of fair-play and justice to the worker, (b) reasonable exercise of authority to the manager, and (c) adequate participation of the union.
  • The procedure should be simple enough to be understood by every employee. The steps should be as few as possible. Channels for handling grievances should be carefully developed. Employees must know the authorities to be contacted at various levels. Information about the procedure can be thoroughly disseminated among all employees through pictures, charts, diagrams, etc.
  • Promptness. Speedy settlement of a grievance is the corner stone of a sound personnel policy. Justice delayed is justice denied. The procedure should aim at rapid disposal of the grievance. This can be achieved by incorporating the following features in the procedure. As far as possible grievances should be settled at the lowest level.
  • In order to ensure effective working of the grievance procedure it is necessary that supervisors and the union representatives are given training in grievance handling.
  • Follow-up/Evaluation. The working of the procedure should be reviewed periodically by the personnel department and necessary structural changes introduced to make it more effective.

A good grievance procedure attacks problems as they arise; excellent grievance procedure anticipates them and prevents them from occurring. A manager can know about the simmerings even before they turn into actual grievances through several means such as opinion surveys, open door policy, suggestion schemes and exit interviews.

Benefits of Grievance System

  • It brings human problems into the open so that the management can learn about them and try corrective action.
  • It helps in preventing grievances by encouraging management to probe underlying problems before and correct them. The management catches and solves a problem before it becomes a grievance.
  • It provides employees a formalized means of emotional release for their dissatisfactions. Even if a worker does not use the grievance system for his own emotional release in a particular situation, he feels better because he knows the system is there to use if he wants to do so. It builds within him a sense of emotional security.
  • It helps in establishing and maintaining a work culture or way of life. As problems one interpreted in the grievance procedure, the group learns how it is expected to respond to the policies that have been set up.
  • It acts as a check upon arbitrary and capricious management action. When a manager knows that his actions are subject to challenge and review in a grievance he becomes more careful in taking decisions.
  • Ensures work progresses on with lesser interruptions.

What is industry?

Industry means any systematic activity carried on by co-operation between an employer and his workmen (whether such workmen are employed by such employer directly or through any agency, including a contractor) for production, supply, or distribution of goods or services with a view to satisfy human wants or wishes whether or not:

  • Any capital has been invested for the purpose of carrying on such activity; or
  • Such activity is carried on with a motive to make any gain or profit.

Industrial dispute.

An industrial dispute means any dispute or difference between employers and employers or between employers and workmen, or between workmen and workmen, which is connected with the employment or non-employment or the terms of employment or with the conditions of labour, of any person.

Important points which emerge from this definition are:

  • The use of the adjective “industrial” in the term “industrial dispute” relates the dispute to an industry.
  • Only specific types of disputes, i.e., those which bear upon the relationship of employers and workers and the terms of employment and conditions of labour are included under the term. Thus, disputes between government and an industrial establishment or between workmen and non-workmen are not industrial disputes.
  • The use of plural number for the disputant parties in the definition raises doubt on whether there can be an industrial dispute between an employer and an individual workman. An individual dispute is considered an industrial dispute only if it relates to discharge, dismissal, retrenchment or termination of a worker’s services.

Causes of Disputes

Disputes arise from a variety of causes including wages and allowances, bonuses, redundancies, leave and hours of work, indiscipline and violence etc. The most common cause of all industrial disputes has been wages and allowances followed by personnel matters and retrenchment.

Forms of Disputes

Strikes and lockouts are the most common forms of organized protests followed by the workers and employers against each other. Both these forms produce highly disquieting effects on the economic life of the country. They leave behind a lot of privation for the workers, reduction in output and profits for industries, high prices and inconvenience for the general public and an atmosphere of mutual distrust and suspicion for the workers and the employers. The nation as a whole suffers in as much as the national dividend gets reduced owing to reduced production.

“Strike means a cessation of work by a body of persons employed in any industry acting in combination, or a concerted refusal under a common understanding of any number of persons who are or have been so employed to continue to work or to accept employment”

Thus, the essential ingredients of a strike are:

  • There should be an ‘industry’ in which the striking persons should be employed.
  • There should be stoppage of work in pursuance to a concerted plan in combination. Where the workers absent together from the work-place not to stop work but to participate in a demonstration which may incidentally result in the stoppage of work it is not a strike because it is not in pursuance to a concerted plan.
  • There should be a contract of employment between the striking workmen and the industry. Thus when the workmen refuse to do additional work which the employer in law has no right to ask them to do it would not amount to strike. It should be remembered that the duration of the cessation of work is absolutely irrelevant for the purpose of determining whether a particular cessation amounts to strike or not.

The cessation of work need not necessarily be connected with an industrial dispute to amount to a strike. For this reason, sympathetic strikes, protest strikes, etc are ‘strikes’ within the meaning of the term.

Forms of Strikes.

Cessation of work may take place in a number of ways as described below:

  • Stay-in-strike, sit-down strike, pen-down strike or tool-down strike. All these forms of strike are considered by courts as an invasion on the rights of employer and therefore illegal. Sit-down or stay-in strike amounts to trespass upon the property of the employer.
  • Go-slow. Slowing down the pace of production is one of the most pernicious practices that discontented workmen sometime resort to. It would not be far wrong to call this dishonest. For, while thus delaying production and thereby reducing the output, the workmen claim to have remained employed and thus to be entitled to full wages. Apart form this also, ‘go-slow’ is likely to be much more harmful than total cessation of work by strike. For, while during a strike much of the machinery can be fully turned off, during the ‘go-slow’, the machinery is kept going on a reduced speed which is often extremely damaging to machinery parts. For all these reasons ‘go-slow’ has always been considered a serious type of misconduct. But it is not a strike because at no time is the work stopped in this form.
  • Hunger strike. Hunger strike is a strike with fasting with some or all strikers or even outsiders for acceptance of the demands.
  • Lightning or wildcat strike. A wildcat strike is an unofficial strike, i.e., strike not sanctioned by the union. Such strikes occasionally occur in violation of no-strike pledge in collective bargaining agreements. In such a situation the union is obligated to use its best efforts to end the strike. Such strikes are prohibited in public utility services.
  • Lock out. “Lock out” is the temporary closing of a place of employment or the suspension of work, or the refusal by an employer to continue to employ any number of persons employed by him. Lock out, thus, is the counterpart of strike-the corresponding weapon in the hands of the employer to resist the collective demands of workmen or to enforce his terms.

Strikes and lock-outs and the threat of strikes and lock-outs are said to be necessary to make the collective bargaining process work. The pressure of strikes and lock-outs compels both sides toward agreement. Nonetheless, strikes and lock-outs cause inconvenience for those involved and often for the public as well. They also sometimes disrupt public peace. Hence they have often been subject of legal regulation.

Regulation of Strikes and Lockouts

Employees do not have an unfettered right to go on strike nor do employers have such right to impose lock-out. The Industrial Disputes Act lays down several restrictions on the rights of both the parties. A strike or lock-out commenced or continued in contravention of these restrictions is termed illegal and there is severe punishment provided for the same.

Illegal strikes and lockouts are of two types:

  • Those which are illegal from the time of their commencement; and
  • Those which are not illegal at the time of commencement but become illegal subsequently.

Economic Impact of Industrial Disputes

Industrial disputes affect all the stockholders in different ways:


  • Riots can lead to destruction of the plant and buildings
  • Machinery can also get damaged due to work stoppage lasting long
  • Production is reduced leading to low sales and therefore low profits
  • Financial obligations may not be met especially when using credit facilities.


  • Loss of income arising from days on strike or termination of service
  • Failure to meet financial obligations for self, family and other dependants.
  • On a positive note, may lead to better remuneration where Trade Union succeeds.


  • Loss of revenue in taxes from both employers and employees
  • Lower Gross National Product
  • Economic instability, which can lead to political and social instability/investor confidence.


  • Scarcities of the product leading to high prices
  • Importation of substitutes leading to eating up into the scarce
  • Foreign reserves.

The following figures show the number of strikes that took place in Kenya between the years 1962 – 1976:

There is no doubt that strike action has drastically dropped in Kenya. This can be attributed mainly to the fact that the parties to industrial disputes have access to a forum, which over the years proved that it is truly and genuinely impartial.


  1. What are some of the alternative approaches to handling disputes?

Grievance and Dispute Settlement Machinery

The areas to be covered include:

  • Meaning of industrial grievance and dispute
  • Sources of industrial disputes
  • Types of industrial action
  • Economic impact of industrial disputes
  • Grievance handling procedure
  • Role of industrial court n settlement of industrial disputes

Meaning of industrial grievance and dispute

1) Industrial grievance – is any discontent or dissatisfaction expressed openly or otherwise by a worker or a group of workers.

  • It can be valid or not valid, it can arise out of anything concerned with management hat a worker or workers think, believe, feel or imagine to be unfair.
  • It can grow out of bad relationships between workers and their supervisors especially workers and their supervisors feel that they are not being treated fairly.
  • Grievance emanate from problems associated with human nature and the personal acharacteristics of the workers, shop stewardess and supervisors
  • Complaints are usually made by workers, management grievances are very rare.
  • Workers’ grievances are commonly based on alleged violation of existing right or alleged unfair treatment of workers by management.

2) A dispute: can arise out of unsettled grievances. A trade dispute means any dispute between an employer and workers (trade union) which is connected with employment o r non-employment of the terms of employment and conditions of labour of any person.

  • A dispute will arise if a trade unions claim within the negotiation procedure is not given consideration by management
  • In any country where there exists trade unions (officially recognized and registered) it is important for the management to have knowledge of the laws governing grievances/disputes.

3) Strike: trade disputes CAP 234 define strike as withdrawal of labour or work stoppage.

  • A strike occurs when a group of workers refuse to work. Union officials can issue a strike order if there is an impasse in negotiations or if management violates the labour contract.
  • A strike is a trade unions strongest negotiation weapon. It forces management to sit at the negotiating table and listen to workers demands
  • As far as trade unions are concerned, are not evil, they are part of collective bargaining
  • Strikes are serious interruptions of an organizations operations. The threat of a strike and the actual strike are major weapons for trade unions against management’s refusal to meet their demands.
  • Stopping work is a demonstration to management of the importance of the issue in dispute
  • Issues leading to strikes and other labour unrest are normally those contained in the collective bargaining agreement, although there can be other issues outside the agreement which can lead to labour unrest
  • Such issues are solidarity, that is sympathy strike which can occur when a member has been dismissed or when workers in another organization are on strike
  • Union members may stage a strike or a go slow to show solidarity with or sympathy for their colleagues
  • These actions are regulated under the Trade Dispute Act CAP 234, which requires that all the negotiation machinery must be exhausted before a strike, otherwise the strike is illegal

There are different types of strikes as follows: –

  1. Primary strike – Involves withdrawal of labour from the employer who is directly party to the dispute/grievance
  2. Secondary level strike – involves the employer directly. They are party to the dispute but may have some indirect connection to the employer
  • Shop floor level strike – also referred to as wild cat strike. They are normally called without higher level authority
  1. Direct action– it is uncommon and stress the use of physical force
  2. Sabotage – a classic form of direct action.

In summary strikes are meant to disadvantage the other side (employer)

They aim to: –

  • Standardize costs
  • Address common interests
  • Improvement of market and product position
  • Are a positive sanction to induce an agreement

4) Pickets – A picket occurs when a strike is in progress, union members stand outside the gate of an organization’s premises to draw the attention of other workers and the general public.

  • Can also be used to publicize a dispute even when there is no strike in progress
  • The striking workers block the entrance of the premises, thus preventing workers from entering.
  • This also prevents materials, supplies or finished goods from entering or leaving the premises
  • Sometimes, striking workers publicize their strike by carrying placards and distributing literature
  • They can also draw a picket line which could not be crossed by any workers
  • The picket line is meant to stop workers from making contact with management or non-union workers who are not on strike
  • Picketing can turn into violence between the striking workers and those who continue to work, but this is outright illegal because in the first place, picketing is supposed to be peaceful.
  • Secondary, violence according to law is a criminal offence. Furthermore, before any group of workers decide to go o strike or engage in any labour unrest, they are supposed to exhaust all the established and available machinery.

 5) Boycotts – The approach in boycott is similar to that of picketing. The difference is that, it involves workers and the general public.

  • It is powerful economic weapon in drawing the attention of an organization to necessary changes
  • During a boycott, a union will direct workers and the general public not to buy the goods and services of the employer
  • The union and it s members will also tell the public not to transact any business with the organization
  • Sometimes violence erupts, especially when a group of workers or public decide to go on transacting business with the organization
  • During a boycott, just as in picketing there are demonstrations with placards and distribution of literature
  • Boycotts can result into an organization is business actions coming to a standards especially when the public join the workers.

6) Lock-outs – A lockout occurs when an employer refuse to allow workers to enter the working premise.

  • A lockout is the management counter weapon against trade unions strike, go-slow or pickets
  • They are used for defensive purposes
  • This is done n order to protect the organizations property from being damaged especially in cases where and when striking workers turn to vandalism
  • Lockouts can also be used when and where management anticipates a strike

7) Go-slow and sickout ­ Go slow happens when workers report to work but perform at a very slow speed. Sick-out happens when workers report that they are sick and cannot come out. Such a move can paralyze operation especially if a large number of workers in key positions call in sick.

8) Riots – Refer to wild or violent disturbance by a crowd of people. This is an extreme outcome of boycott and picketing and can be destructive to life and organizations property

Types of industrial action

Workers can achieve their aims through: –

  • Industrial action
  • International action
  • Political action

Industrial action

Here workers can achieve their objective through: –

  • Collective bargaining and negotiation
  • Joint consultations
  • Withdrawals of labour

Sources of industrial disputes


  • Economic matters
  • Disciplinary matters
  • Recognition of Trade Union by Employer
  • Disputes between unions on representation of group workers

Some major causes of employees grievances

The root of major employees grievances can be traced to the following factors: –

  • Poor interpretation and implementation of contract of employment by management
  • Inconsistent personnel policies, practice and procedure
  • Poor definition of roles and overlapping authority and responsibilities
  • Differential perception of group goals, company’s rules and regulations
  • Introduce changes in the organization without considering the impact of such changes on employees or without prior consultations
  • Prejudice and discrimination resulting in charges of tribalism and nepotism
  • Illicit use of authority and power over subordinates
  • Violation of group norms and values by other members of the group
  • Poor management/ union relations
  • Wage differential between grades of workers
  • Procedure for promotions
  • Disputes over disciplinary actions
  • Disputes over work demarcation
  • Disputes over the negotiating procedures
  • The role of government and wage policy
  • External forces, like rapid changes in technology or economic conditions affecting the standard of living.

Signs of potential grievances

  • In order to prevent grievances from turning into open confrontation and dissatisfaction management should be alert to potential problems which workers may have
  • Any or a combination of the following situations can be sign of potential grievances: –
  1. Decreased interest in work
  2. Negative statements about the job, colleagues, supervisors and the organization
  • Unwillingness to cooperate
  1. Poor job performance
  2. Slowing down on the job
  3. Being away form assigned place of work with no apparent reasons.

Economic impact of industrial disputes

  • Loss of profits by the organization or management
  • Inconvenience to the public (in case the strikes turn violent)
  • It scare away investors
  • It leads to wastages
  • Government loses revenue
  • Loss of wages for the workers
  • Trade unions don’t get subscriptions

Reasons for grievance procedures

  • Absence leads to unrest, dissatisfaction, chaos
  • Management can detect trouble spots or friction areas in the enterprise
  • It is an orderly outlet of protect
  • Important supplement to collective bargaining agreement.

Individual/union/management role

Basically, grievances can be handled in two forms:

  1. Individual grievance
  2. Collective grievance

Industrial grievance: an individual employee of the company wishing to raise grievance with which he is directly and personally concerned, shall first approach his immediate supervisor. In case settlement is not reached, he/she shall have the right to appeal to the higher levels of management as soon possible in accordance with the established procedures. The employee shall be represented by an accredited union at all stages.

Collective grievances – In FKE/COTU model agreement on recognition and negotiating procedure, a collective grievance is defined as any dispute arising from a breach of real or alleged or existing terms of service in the matters specified in clause 2(a) of this agreement which may affect all employees or any of the employees” clause 2 or the agreement specified negotiable items under the collective agreement.

The grievance machinery and its desirable features

  • The machinery or procedure for the treat merit of grievance should be thought of in the consent of a company dealing with organized labour.
  • Even, so with or without existence of trade unions, in the undertaking, every company should endeavor to establish such a procedure, perhaps, primarily for the processing of individual complaints and grievances
  • A good grievance machinery should possess the following features
    • Be fair – all supervisors should accept the employees, right of appeal or to be represented. In other words they should be rights of representation of the workers
    • Be clear cut – no procedure can work satisfactorily unless there are definite provisions, always adhered to determining what is to be done, when and by whom.
    • Simplicity – this procedure should be sufficiently simple, easy and quickly explainable to each new employee
    • Speed in operation – Prompt action is desirable not only for the complaint but also by management. Undue delay can be costly in the growth and spread of discontents
    • Stage at which full time official is involved
    • Stages involved and time limits
    • Officers involved at each stage

The main components of grievance procedure

These are many types of grievance machinery or procedure. It is an error to thinks that there is one just or best type. Types vary from one company to the other and the stages vary from steps one to ten, more or less, depending on the size of the organization. Nevertheless, the first and last steps appear to be the same always no matter the number of intervening steps.

  • In order to expedite action on grievance settlement, it is also common practice to attach a time tag to each step. For example, it could be that at each step in the machinery, every effort must be made within a period of two or three days to resolve the grievance, so that in all within 7 days, more or less, a final decision must have been arrived at.
  • The essence of grievance settlement is on the time factor. The longer it takes to settle a grievance, the slimmer the chance of successful settlement.


The employee should raise the matter with his immediate supervisor or manger, and may be accompanied by a follow employee

The supervisor or manager will endeavor to resolve the grievance without delay.


This is intermediate step. There can be a number of steps between the first and the last step in machinery. At this step, the grievance is submitted to middle management for settlement. In many companies, the personnel Department is injected into the procedure as a decision-making power with authority to reverse or overrule a supervisor who had featured prominently at the first steps.

Similarly, the labour – Relations specialist should study the grievance although it is appropriate that the power to decide should rest with line management.

The line manager often consider grievance procedure incidental and distasteful duty.

Hence this lack of specialization has given rise to situation in which staff personnel department is given authority to make decisions about grievance.

On the union side, the intermediate levels are represented by higher personnel in the union hierarchy (i.e. committee of shop stewards or National Officials of the Union)


Being in the last step, this involves a discussion of the grievance between representatives of top management and top union officials. For the union, the local or national officials would be involved

It is often difficult to secure an integration of interests of this high level. The grievance has now become an issue which has both political and social implications. A lot of time, energy and common sense is now brought into play for the final resolution of the grievance and or both parties to come to agreement, knowing that in the event of failure the issue may be referred to arbitration for final adjudication. If settlement at this final level fails, the union has a number of options: –

  • To drop the matter temporarily or permanently
  • To call a strike action if the contract permits
  • To leave the matter with the National office or pursue any appropriate action.
  • A typical codification of a grievance settlement procedure where an agreement with union exists
  1. a) Individual – grievance

In this situation an individual raises his/her grievance to the immediate supervisor.

In case no agreement has been reached the employee forwards the case t the higher levels of management. In case the employee is unionisable, he shall be represented by an accredited union at all stages.



  1. b) Collective claims

There shall be any claims for alteration to terms of service regarding matters negotiable as per the recognition. Agreement which may affect all employee or any group of employees

Such claims shall be raised in writing with the management by the Union’s General Secretary or his authorized representative normally three months before the expiration of the current agreement within which period the parties will endeavor to reach a settlement. All agreements jointly reached shall be committed in writing and signed by both parties.

Consideration – presupposes the reconciliation of the parties in a dispute by an appointee of the minister having consulted the Tripartite committee, which in turn is made up of a representatives of the government, the employers and the workers

Investigations – presupposes the appointment of an appointment of an independent party to ponder and establish the truth on or otherwise of the issue in dispute and to come up with a finding and recommendations on how the issue can be settled

Both conciliation and investigation results would only be binding on the parties to a dispute if they voluntarily chose to honor them as a formula for the settlement of their dispute. Where the parties fail to accept the efforts of the conciliator or the recommendation of an investigator either party would be free to refer the matter to the industrial court as a dispute.

Benefits of a grievance system

  • It helps to establish and maintain a satisfactory working culture or way of life
  • It helps to arrest and solve the problems before they become serous and to prevent them from spreading to other workers
  • Grievances signal to management that part of its human relations is not functioning properly and need readjustment
  • It encourages human problems to be brought into the open so that management can learn about them and take corrective action
  • It has provided a system of checks and balances in employer/employee relations
  • Awareness of grievance in work situation, makes the manager or supervisor to give more care to the human aspect of his job when he knows that some of his actions are subject to challenge and review in a grievance system

Problems of operating grievance procedure

  • Workers fear repercussions
  • There is no clarity on who makes certain decisions for example line manager? Personnel manager? On Director?
  • Grievances take too long to deal with
  • Shot-circuiting occurs thereby by passing certain procedures to get things done quickly

Trade disputes at formal level

Trade disputes become formal when the secretary of a Trade Union reports the matter to the ministry of labour. The minister then consults the tripartite committee (representative of workers plus the manager. The committee therefore vetts (examines) disputes reported.

The minister can:

  • Can accept the dispute
  • Can refuse to accept it
  • Refer back the matter to the parties if he feels that they can be resolved
  • Can endeavor to effect conciliation
  • Refer the matter for arbitration to the industrial court

Any dispute whether existing or new can be reported to the minister for labour. The dispute must be collected and reported by a trade union for it to be accepted

Disputes of dismissal must be reported within 28days. Why? So that the vacancy is not replaced for unlawful dismissal

This report must be in writing specifying the employee classes involved. The party union must indicate the union and respondents involved and group of employees and the matter in dispute. Furthermore, sufficient copies of the report must be sent to the interested bodies

Another example of a dispute is in redundancy. Redundancy can be defined as super abundance of factors of production (laobour) existing without employment

There is need to explain reasons why there has to be redundancy; redundancy cost to the union; severance pay (5day per year worked); notice of termination of contract and gibing a certificate of service.

Methods of conciliation, investigation and arbitration.

Investigation – This occurs when the minister is satisfied that a dispute exist.

  • A public officer (labour officer) is appointed and will call upon management and union to make submissions on the dispute
  • Alternatively a committee/panel of investigators might be appointed by the minister for labour and make recommendation
  • The committee must consist of members qualified in industrial relations and an impartial member
  • The investigator(s) is to make a report to the minister i.e. the report must have proposals of how the dispute is to be sorted out. This therefore, must be considered desirable by both parties
  • The minister then processes the report; vary it or take it the way it was or change it completely. If parties accept the report, the matter is finalized. And if rejected, it goes to the industrial court for arbitration.

N/B it is worth noting that both parties are brought together on the discussion of the dispute at hand.

Leave a Reply