Conflict in the Construction Industry

Pages22-26
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/eb055071
Publication Date01 Feb 1986
AuthorRay Marsh
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour
Conflict in the
Construction
Industry
by Ray Marsh
Introduction
A previous article has examined industrial relations on large
construction sites indicating the ad hoc nature of construc-
tion labour policies[1]. The high level of industrial conflict
on British sites was attributed to the fragmented wage and
bargaining structures together with poor managerial
con-
trol at site level. (see Table I). This, it was suggested, pro-
duced a high degree of insecurity amongst the workforce
which tended to undermine the peaceful resolution of many
disputes.
Whilst strikes have dropped considerably during the past
few years, the previously "poor" industrial relations record
of the industry is reflected by its structure and organisa-
tion.
In the construction industry there is a high degree of
social and economic disintegration of both firms and of in-
dustrial group organisation, regulated by a highly centralised
system of control. Disputes in the industry are particularly
prevalent on large sites which require a highly integrated
system of organisation and control if they are to be manag-
ed successfully. Evidence to show that British large sites
have been behind both their European and US counterparts
has been published by the National Economic Development
Council (NEDO)[2].
This article discusses the background in which labour rela-
tions is conducted. One major contention is that the level
of disputes in the construction industry, specifically on large
sites,
reflects the instability both of the organisations and
individuals who work in it. Conflict, therefore, acts as a
mechanism for regulating the behaviour between the par-
ties concerned, helping to balance out roughly the defects
within the structure and organisation of the industry which
impinge on its industrial relations.
Background Economic Influences
The construction "product" is essentially an individual one.
Rarely is it pre-packaged, although some specialist firms
within the industry sell particular forms of construction ex-
pertise which are sought nationally, e.g. soil mechanics,
tun-
nelling,
insulation. A construction firm relies on its clients,
each with individual needs and priorities who assign work
out through contract tendering and then select the firm with
the most suitable cost estimate. This system produces a
high degree of inter-firm competitiveness and cost
con-
sciousness. Since many construction jobs are capital pro-
jects (hopefully due to economic expansion), the client is
often concerned about their early completion. These two
influences of cost and completion begin to figure largely
in the pre-planning and execution of construction projects.
Actual completion of a project is not always left in the hands
of one main contractor, since few firms can complete large
constructions themselves. This means that the client has
to split the contract down between a handful of firms
capable of overall completion, or to allow an individual firm
to sub-contract specialist work at specific stages of the job.
Year
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979
1980
1981
1982
ALL
2,497
2,873
2,922
2,282
2,016
2,703
2,471
2,080
1,330
1,338
1,528
Mining/
quarrying
229
305
196
217
283
272
351
309
310
305
404
Table I. Industrial Stoppages 1972-82
Metals
engineering Textiles
1,249
1,342
1,326
1,045
800
1,124
975
848
380
434
473
Source: Annual Abstract of Statistics, 1984.
66
92
94
72
49
77
67
42
25
26
41
Clothing
31
31
31
45
31
38
36
27
10
13
14
Construction
243
217
203
208
244
248
185
170
103
59
45
Transport
236
298
305
189
193
247
209
180
158
157
167
All
others
443
591
774
517
418
705
657
521
352
353
396
22 ER 8,2 1986

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