This study evaluated the efficacy of collective bargaining as a pathway to conflict management in Nigerias’ public sector organizations. A sample of 1425 respondents drawn through stratified random sampling technique from six (6) purposively selected public establishments with chequered history of conflict in work-relations in the federal capital city, Abuja, participated in the study. Data were obtained through the use of questionnaire which has a modified 5-point rating scale with a reliability coefficient of 0.796. Descriptive statistics of percentage count, mean and standard deviation were used for the analysis of data collected. The two hypotheses which guided the study were tested using t-test statistical method and Spearman correlation analysis at 0.05 level of significance. The result established a significant difference in the perception of labour and management on collective bargaining as an accommodative device for conflict management in public sector establishments. The study also found a non-significant statistical determinate effect between collective bargaining and conflict management. Specifically, the finding prefigured collective bargaining to be ineffective, indicating the creeping web of governments’ intrigues as one of the main constraints inhibiting the effectiveness of the mechanism. The manifest outcome has been the incessant intense cycle of industrial actions in the Nigerian public sector organizations. The study concluded that collective bargaining is an institutional invention for reconciling conflicting goals of labour and management, but the machinery has not played any central and effectual role in the industrial relations practice of the public sector establishment in Nigeria.
Contemporary work organizations, whether in the public or private sector of any nation’s economy are predominantly made up of plurality of interest groups with diverse goals and aspirations. These different goals and interests are in perpetual conflict with each other (Ekwoba, Ideh and Ojikutu, 2015). As such, the possibility of elimination of conflict in work – relations seems remote but the spectre can be recognized and managed for the overriding benefits of all stakeholders in organizations. For this reason, collective bargaining has emerged overtime as an accommodative device for regulating and dealing with relational problems between labour and management in the work – situation. The mechanism has served as an effective conflict deterrent, resulting in avoidance of bitter industrial actions and ensuring the promotion of lasting industrial peace and harmony in work-establishments.
According to Bendix (2011), collective bargaining is a rational process in which appeals to fact and logic reconcile conflicting interests in the light of common interest of both parties. Within this context, the approach is seen as an essential tool of institutionalizing and containing conflicts in the workplace. In dynamic establishments, where collective bargaining is done effectively and in good faith, the outcome is often an amicable resolution of joint problems resulting into collective agreement by labour and management. This implies that effective collective bargaining establishes the set rules between parties during the life – time of a collective agreement and also gives the method of settling grievances that will occur from to time to time (Appah and Emeh, 2012).
Within the employment relationship, conflict of interest is an inherent element of labour management relations. From this perspective, Obi (2013) defined workplace conflict as an act of discontentment and contention which either the workers or employers of labour utilizes to put excessive pressure against each other so as to get their demands. This view is consistent with Muhammad (2014) and Kazimoto (2013) description of workplace conflict as existence of clash of interests or objectives in worker – management relations. On this premise, most industrial conflicts have economic and goal incompatibility in the absence of common values in work establishments. However, through the use of the machinery of collective bargaining, it is possible for labour and management with conflicting goals to relate harmoniously, handle their grievances or disputes by working towards consensus and diminishing the odds of non – productive escalation of conflicts. Ironically, despite the acclaimed purpose of collective bargaining as a veritable tool of industrial peace, no day passes in Nigeria, particularly in public sector organizations without any form or threat of industrial actions. Thus, the most frequent problem in Nigeria in recent times is the incessant industrial action (Uma, Obidike, Eboh and Ogbona, (2013) and Okuwa and Campbell, 2011). According to them, if it is not the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), it will be Health workers or other important public sector union. Consequently, the public sector employees’ faith in the use of collective bargaining is fast ebbing away. This is because, the only justification of industrial action in this sector is the dent on the collective bargaining approach.
Thus, by today’s standard, collective bargaining practice seems to be in a deplorable and piteous situation in the Nigerian public sector establishment. Ibietan (2013) opined that the machinery and process of collective bargaining are not given firm footing particularly in the Nigerian public sector organizations. He added that perfidy or deliberate refusal to honour collective agreements arrived at through the consensual process of collective bargaining are rife among employers or management representatives of some public organizations. Similarly, Fajana and Shadare (2012) asserted that generally, collective bargaining has experienced considerable elevating policy pronouncements, but less in terms of seriousness and effectiveness in various industrial sectors in Nigeria. In contrast however, Ekwuoba, Ideh and Ojikutu (2015), Owoseni (2014) and Bello and Kinge (2014) argued that collective bargaining is a veritable instrument of management of conflict and has played an effective role in conflict resolution in Nigeria public sector organizations. Hence, a wide divergence of opinions exists on the effectiveness of collective bargaining as a tool of conflict management in the public sector organizations in the country.