Industrial conflict occurs when employees express their dissatisfaction with management over the current state of the management-employee relationship. The causes of such dissatisfaction are typically matters related to regular wage payment, wage increase or remunerations according to terms of the employment contract. Employees can express such dissatisfaction in formal or informal ways. Formal methods are organized and are planned in advance, while informal ones are spontaneous and unorganized, usually taking management by surprise. There are different types of formal and informal industrial conflicts.
A strike is the employees’ temporary withdrawal of services, contrary to an employment contract. It is a formal form of industrial conflict that is usually organized by a trade union. (Trade unions are representatives of employment that ensure that employee working conditions and earnings are managed according to rule.) During typical strikes, trade unions ensure that there are no alternative means of getting the services that employees have refused to provide. A strikes usually continues until management addresses the matter of dissatisfaction that caused it.
Work-to-rule, another form of formal industrial action, occurs when workers work strictly according to the legal terms of their contract. They deliberately refuse to make use of their initiative and act rigidly, like pre-programmed machines. For instance, a nurse may deliberately refuse to answer phone calls that are meant for doctors (since her terms of contract do not include phone-answering). A stenographer may ignore glaring grammatical errors in what her boss dictates to her (since, strictly speaking, her responsibility is merely to transcribe whatever her boss dictates to her). Since work-to-rule does not go against any formal terms of contract, it rarely brings punishment. However, it naturally slows down work progress.
Absenteeism, an informal form of industrial conflict, occurs when employees deliberately refuse to report to their workplace. Absenteeism is not always a sign of industrial conflict, since employees can fail to report to work due to injury or illness, for instance. Thus industrial-conflict absenteeism merely increases the loss of productivity and revenue that an organization suffers due to failure of workers to report for duty due to reasons of personal incapacity that they cannot help, such as illness.
Sabotage, another form of informal industrial conflict, occurs when employees deliberately damage their organization’s production or reputation. This could take the form of slowing down production, temporarily disabling machinery, direct destruction of organization’s property or slandering the organization. Employers who engage in sabotage (saboteurs) usually hide their individual identities, but do not shy away from identifying themselves as a pressure group.