Causes of Industrial Disputes

Causes of Industrial Disputes

Industrial unrest has always been around since the first industrial revolution, which divided people into 2 parts; the capitalist that own most of the factors of production such as land, plant and machinery and the workers who sell their services. The interest of the two groups are hardly in line with the major conflicts resulting from wages.  Identifying a single problem that causes industrial disputes is a difficult task. They are many factors that come into play that include wages, working conditions and managerial factors to name a few.

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What are Industrial Disputes

An industrial dispute can be defined as a difference in opinion, a disagreement, friction or any form of conflict between management and workers or amongst employees. These disputes normally result in strikes, demonstrations, Lockouts and Boycotts. In many instances, strikes or protests arise when the grievance is connected to fundamental injustices. These could be poor working conditions, unfair treatment of workers or discrimination. Often times demonstrations and boycotts turn violent. The major causes of industrial disputes are summarised below.


Issues relating to wages are the major cause of industrial disputes with the demand for wage increases being the most cause of these disputes. Due to the rise in living standards, prices of basic food and commodities industrial workers’ real incomes decline at a rapid rate. As a result, workers may feel unsatisfied with their wages.  Business owners take advantage of the workers poor bargaining power and seek to pay them the lowest possible wage whilst the workers strive for the highest possible bid. As a result, disputes related to wages arise. The pressure to increase wages may arise from wage differentials at regional or geographical levels. When workers in a specific sector discover that their wages are lower than their counterparts in a similar industry, they may find it unfair and push for an upward revision of wages.

Working Conditions

Another major cause of industrial disputes is poor working conditions. The working conditions in many industries are poor and unhygienic and, in some cases, dangerous. In some developing and underdeveloped countries there is no sufficient water, heating and lighting in the factories. Many of the disputes triggered by poor working conditions occur in the mining and manufacturing industries. Most business owners are only concerned with productivity and profits and few consider the working environment of their workers. Consequently, workers and their employers clash.

Working Hours

Working hours are also a cause of industrial disputes. Low and semi-skilled workers are often made to work for long hours without being fairly compensated. Because of this, disputes between workers and employers arise. All workers want shorter working hours and high wages whilst employers want them to work for long hours and pay them as little as possible. Consequently, strikes usually erupt because of a combination of long working hours, poor working conditions and low wages.

High Industrial Profits

The price of commodities has been rising during and after the second world war. This translated to high profits for business owners and entrepreneurs. However, this has caused resentment on the part of most workers. Industrial workers feel that since they play a part in the production of these commodities they are entitled to a portion of the profits. The high profits which have translated to huge bonuses and high earnings of CEO’s of major companies but pay low wages to their workers, have resulted in major industrial disputes. Industrial workers feel that they need to be incentivised the same way their managers are. Little to no incentives will be considered unfair and inadequate given the role the workers play in production.

Employee Benefits

Large manufacturers and businesses offer medical aid, education and housing to their employees. Still, such benefits, both statutory and voluntary, have been reported by some workers to be inadequate.  This has caused strikes; especially in cases where such employers do not pay their workers enough money to cover for such basic needs. Some companies nowadays provide various types of benefits including paid leave, but some employees are not satisfied with these benefits.


Forms of discrimination such as race, gender and disability are some of the major causes of industrial disputes in many countries. The race or gender of an individual can be a contributing factor when determining recruitment, promotion and disciplinary action. The same issues can be used to determine working hours, unsafe jobs and wages. In some cases, workplace discrimination can be in the form of an abusive relationship between an employer and employee through granting of breaks, leave approval and workstation assignments. Defective recruitment policies, in many cases, are a result of discrimination. As such, such discriminatory behaviour can be a major cause of industrial disputes.

Trade Unions

Another cause of industrial disputes is the failure to recognise trade unions on the part of the employers, in some extreme cases, denying employees to join trade unions. This normally occurs when the type of leadership or management it autocratic. Employers’ attitude towards labour associations has always been negative throughout history with some workers believing that employers simply want to divide and rule. As a result, disputes between workers and employers take a long time to be resolved.

Legal Factors

The various legal factors can also be a cause of industrial disputes because they may interfere with managers and employees unnecessarily. Labour laws are generally created to better industrial relations but too many laws may end up creating confusion and, in some cases, such laws have inherent contradictions. In some countries, the labour laws that were put in place a long time ago have not been reviewed or updated. The international human resource management practices have changed together with the attitudes of both workers and employers, but some labour laws have not yet been changed. As a result, such outdated labour laws have become a source of dispute between workers and their employers.

Political Factors

Politicians have a tendency of interfering in industrial relations and this causes industrial disputes. Through politicising trade union activities politicians can be an unnecessary cause of industrial disputes. This is often seen in countries where the political system has degraded. In such instances political parties pressurise management or trade unions to be involved in activities that may be detrimental to industrial relations.

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