This chapter will explore the various ways in which governments – and state institutions more broadly – are involved in industrial relations. The concept of industrial relations, as both an arena of social practice and the academic study of its dynamics, denotes the regulation, control and – in the currently fashionable term – governance of work and the employment relationship. In some countries, the central institutions involved are trade unions and employers’ organizations, which shape the rules of employment through collective bargaining. But the meaning of industrial relations is far broader than this: indeed, it encompasses the whole range of issues that concern the ILO. While institutions differ greatly across countries, and the relative impact of different institutional arrangements can shift radically over time, the core reality is that in all countries and at all times, working lives are rule-governed, and the creation and application of these rules require analysis and understanding. Industrial relations cannot be detached from public policy. The broad consensus among academic analysts and policy-makers (certainly including the ILO) is that good industrial relations rests on a high degree of autonomous regulation by the ‘social partners’ – a principle captured by the German concept of Tarifautonomie or the English ‘free collective bargaining’, and expressed in detail in the ILO Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) and Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98).
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