The purpose of this paper is to explore the impact of mediation on two long-running collective industrial disputes in Ireland using a theoretical framework established in the literature.
The paper presents a detailed qualitative analysis of two disputes. In both cases a panel of mediators was invited to intervene when the established dispute resolution structures and processes had failed and impasse had been prolonged. Each member of the mediation panels, and the lead union representative, was interviewed about their perception of the mediation process and its impact. Interview questions centred around a set of mediation “Outcome Determinants” identified by Wall et al. (2001). Following Wall et al.'s proposal, Lewin's (1951) Force Field Analysis theory is applied as a theoretical lens for understanding the subtle impact of mediation in these cases.
The empirical evidence suggests that while mediation did not lead directly to settlement, it influenced the resolution of these disputes. The disputes were a-typical in that most collective disputes in Ireland are resolved through established industrial relations structures and processes, either at firm level or through State-funded agents/agencies. However, intractable disputes occur periodically and there is an on-going need of this type of specialised ad hoc mediation. The Wall et al. framework combined with Force Field Analysis theory, provide a theoretical lens through which these disputes can be analysed and understood.
An understanding of the nuanced impact of mediation is useful for justifying the continuation of this valuable approach. There is also some scope for predicting the likely impact of mediation in advance of engagement or at least allowing the mediators to explore the status of the Outcome Determinants related to a specific case in order to develop a tailored mediation strategy.
This paper is unique in that it takes an existing theoretical framework and tests its application in two case disputes. The value of the framework is thus highlighted. Further application of the framework to other dispute scenarios would facilitate its development as a tool of understanding and some limited prediction. Mediation in this type of context has not been formally researched before. Public policy and theoretical implications of the work are highlighted in the concluding section.
The author wishes to thank all of the participants in this research. Without them such unique insight into the mediation process would not have been possible. The author also wishes to thank her colleagues Dr Mary Quinn, Maureen Maloney and Professor Maura Sheahan for their helpful contributions to various drafts.
Curran, D. (2014), "The role of mediation in the resolution of two industrial disputes in Ireland: Towards a theoretical understanding", Employee Relations, Vol. 36 No. 5, pp. 496-515. https://doi.org/10.1108/ER-06-2013-0066Download as .RIS
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