By Gregoris Ioannou
It is naïve of the management of ‘The English School’ to believe that it can get away with suspending the chair...for sending an email to the parents informing them about the dispute.
Employment relations in the 21st Century are governed by multiple layers of institutional regulation that have evolved historically during the previous centuries. Progress and development do not occur automatically as a result of the expansion of knowledge but when that knowledge comes to inform actual practices and processes through techniques, mechanisms and rules of various sorts. Health and safety at work regulations for example have been established after understanding that poor working conditions lead to poor health, consultation regulations after realising that productivity is enhanced when employees are more engaged and they are more engaged when they are better informed and when their concerns can be voiced, and so on.
Labour law emerged in the late 19th and early 20th Century in Europe based on the understanding that the asymmetry of power between employers and employees led to such a high level of injustice that was incompatible with the progress of humanity at that historical point and at the same time threatened social peace. Labour law was thus developed on the basis of the principle of the protection of the weaker party from the arbitrariness of the stronger party setting in place a series of ‘rules of the game’ that are both substantive and procedural. In the core body of labour law, which during the 20th Century has also been incorporated in national constitutions and international conventions, lies the protection of unionised employees and more so of their elected representatives. This protection is necessary for the stability of industrial relations because it allows for disputes to be played out orderly and eventually be resolved rather than suppressed because suppressions risk creating the conditions for their escalation.
There is however more to the fact that an employer is not allowed to suspend his employees during and about a dispute, let alone the employees’ elected leader. This is because there is more than law involved in employment relations. As it is well known in the academic literature on employment relations, managerial power on which the managerial prerogative is based upon is neither unlimited nor immune from the need to secure legitimacy, if only for it to be effective. At the end of the day employees need more than fear to go about performing their duties. More so in professional contexts and interactive ones such as teaching. When the psychological contract is being breached by the management, a drop in productivity and quality will inevitably follow.
It is naïve of the management of ‘The English School, Nicosia’ to believe that it can get away with suspending the chair of the staff association for sending an email to the parents informing them about the dispute in the school where their children go to. That this will only cost the English School the compensation that the Court will decide against it in a few years’ time. It is naïve to believe that the teachers will go back to work as if this suspension did not happen, or that they will negotiate without their elected leader. Industrial disputes at the end of the day can only be successfully resolved through negotiations and compromise. Conflict is part of this same process; it is a part of the game. Disputes may of course be suppressed rather than resolved. They will however most likely re-surface again soon as experience shows us. When the attempted suppression uses dubious means though, breaking the rules of the game, it is unlikely that it can succeed in its aims even in the short term.
Gregoris Ioannou is an academic, researcher and lecturer at the Sheffield University Management School.