The International Industrial Relations Association (IIRA) was officially established on 30 June 1966, at a meeting in London. The founding members were the British Universities Industrial Relations Association (BUIRA), UK, the Industrial Relations Research Association (now called Labour Employment Relations Association, LERA), USA, the Japan Institute of Labour (JIL) and the International Institute for Labour Studies (IILS) of the ILO. The people principally involved in the formation of the IIRA were Robert W. Cox, the Director of the IILS and Ben C. Roberts, professor of industrial relations at the London School of Economics, at that time. Cox and Roberts discussed the idea of establishing an international industrial relations association between them in the early sixties and later with Gerald Somers, professor of economics and industrial relations at the University of Wisconsin, and Arthur Ross, professor of economics and industrial relations at the University of California and President of IRRA.
In order to avoid becoming a purely Anglo-American association, Somers and Ross suggested to include a non-Anglo-Saxon association as a fourth founding member. Four options were considered: France, Germany, India and Japan and for several reasons Japan was considered the best prospect, since the Japanese Government had established in the late 1950s an autonomous government-funded labour research institute, the Japan Institute of Labour. JIL was officially invited to become the fourth founding member and Ichiro Nakayama, JIL's Director-general, accepted.
A meeting was organized on 29 and 30 June 1966 in London to be attended by Roberts for the IILS, Cox for BUIRA, Nakayama for JIL and Somers for IRRA. Subsequently, Nakayama developed health problems and his place was taken by Shingo Kaite, managing Director of JIL. These four agreed upon the name for the new organization: the International Industrial Relations Association and also approved the draft constitution; appointed Roberts as Chairman of the Provisional Executive Committee and Cox as Secretary. Members of the Committee were Nakayama and Somers. The first IIRA World Congress was set for 4 - 8 September 1967 in Geneva.
In 2010 it was decided to change its name to International Labour and Employment Relations Association (ILERA).
When the IIRA was established in 1966, the founding members hailed mostly from English speaking countries. At the time, the label industrial relations referred to relations between employers and workers, with a focus on relations in unionized companies and in the public sector. Since 1966 the range of issues covered at IIRA congresses has broadened. At the same time, it seems that in many English speaking countries the label industrial relations has come to have a narrower meaning. As a result, many persons looking at the name of the Association assumed that it covered only employer-worker relations in unionized companies, and were unaware that IIRA members also are interested in a broad range of issues. Moreover, since 1966, there have been significant changes in labour markets, in part due to new technologies and globalization. The Association has also become increasingly relevant in developing countries where many persons work in the informal economy.
Over the years, the association has broadened the scope of subject matter to issues such as the transnational movement of labour, non-standard work, labour market regulation and trade and labour standards, and discrimination in employment. Many felt that there was a need for our name to reflect this new world of work, the broader subject matter and the reality of developing country labour markets. The new name refers to labour to include all those who work whether in paid employment, self employment or the care economy. It covers people and work - and not only work. It also aligns the Association more clearly with the International Labour Organization including the very broad range of subject matter found in ILO conventions. The term employment relations is used to describe all types of workplace relations and is intended to be broader than the industrial or manufacturing sector.
Although the name of the association had been discussed for about a decade, a formal proposal to change the name was first put forward during the 14th World Congress in Lima in 2006. Then on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the IIRA at the 8th European Regional Congress in Manchester, United Kingdom in September 2007, a special panel discussion was organized on: IIRA: past and Future. What next for the International Industrial Relations Association?. After a robust and rich discussion, it was decided that the Executive Committee should propose a new name for the association. During the 15th World Congress in Sydney in August 2009, the Executive Committee proposed that the name be change to The International Labour and Employment Relations Association. This was approved by the Council. The Executive Committee met during the 9th European Regional Congress, Copenhagen, Denmark in June 2010 and decided that the new name would come into effect on 1 July 2010. It also approved the new logo.
Robert W. Cox, was born in Canada in 1926. He worked for the ILO from 1947 to 1972. In 1954, he became "chef de cabinet" when David Morse was the Director - General and later became Director of the IILS. He was the first Secretary of ILERA from 1967 to 1970.
Ben C. Roberts was one of the founding members of BUIRA, UK. He met Cox during one of his numerous visits to the IILS. He was the first elected IIRA President from 1976 to 1970 and stayed for a second term from 1970 until 1973.
At the first World Congress, IIRA already counted 10 Full members: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Israel, Italy, UK and USA, 11 Institutional members and 160 Individual Members.