The right of association for workers is a manifestation of fundamental human rights. The right of association applies in each country. It should entirely give freedom to workers to organize and form trade unions. The formation and activities of trade unions in industrial relations are regulated nationally and internationally, both in labour law and in various international labour conventions.
In terms of their function, trade unions are a means of channelling to convey workers’ desires, hopes, complaints, suggestions, or criticisms to employers. A human approach is emphasized in fostering employee motivation in the modern management system. In addition, the semi-formal and non-formal channels that exist in the company are very effective mechanisms beyond the hierarchical structural path. In this case, the trade union functions as a semi-formal channel. Through the union, expectations, instructions, and information from the company can be appropriately conveyed to workers.
Trade unions can function as a motivator and morale for work. The existence of trade unions not only creates peace and security at work in the company. But also closes the door for outsiders who want to interfere with the company to seek personal gain in the context of competition between companies.
The above, freedom of association becomes very important and has strategic value. It is said that because of the use of freedom of association in trade unions. The function of rights is no longer merely a fundamental right but also acquires value as an instrumental right.
This means that the trade union serves as an instrument for workers to fulfil the requirements to obtain other normative rights. With such a construction, the freedom of association, initially only a socio-political right, has changed its function into socio-economic rights.
Basically, the existence of the right to association which is manifested in the form of a trade union in industrial relations has two main functions. First, it serves to protect workers by playing a role in setting minimum standards on wages, occupational health, social security, and working hours for workers.
Second, regulate the working relationship between employers, workers, and the government by establishing regulations in the form of a Collective Labor Agreement (KKB), aiming to change the role of workers from being objects to working partners in the production process.
Following the basic concept and tradition of trade unions developed in European and American countries, the primary function of establishing a trade union is to benefit industrial relations, especially in negotiating wages and working conditions. This concept was later adopted by developing countries, including Indonesia. For example, it can be seen in the Industrial Relations Act, Republic of Singapore. It states, “The relations of employers and employees and the prevention and settlement of trade disputes by collective bargaining, conciliation, and arbitration.”
Using the Singapore industrial relations definition, which is quite complete and has a precise meaning. Industrial relations occur because of three main things: employers and workers as service sellers. The working relationship between the two is regulated through deliberation. And consensus aims to minimize or avoid the possibility of conflicts or “disputes” due to differences in interests.
For industrial relations to run well, it is necessary to have provisions protecting workers’ interests. This is intended so that the existence of workers as weak parties is protected. The protection is stated in the form of company regulations made by entrepreneurs and ratified by the government.
Another regulation that protects workers is the Collective Labor Agreement which results from consensus deliberation between employers and workers. A standard agreement has been established in regulating industrial relations, which is the main guideline. International labour standards on industrial relations are set by the ILO as an international labour organization.
To ensure the existence of “Industrial Peace” or the harmony of industrial relations, there are seven principles that have been accepted as the basis or guidelines by international labour organizations, namely:
a) Freedom of association
b) Collective bargaining
c) Conciliation and arbitration
d) Consultation and cooperation at the level of undertaking
e) Communications within the undertaking
f) Grievance settlement
g) Terminations of employment