Employment Relations in Australia

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Introduction

Traditionally Australia has had government involvement in employment relations through laws governing terms and conditions of employment such as Work Choices and Fair Work Act. Australian workers have in general worked under “Awards” which set out minimum conditions for employment. The last few years have seen almost constant change in the nature of the Australian workforce and the regulations with the introduction of new legislation, and disagreement over the extent to which the state should be involved in the modern Australia workplace, ranging from the extremes of strict government control in employment relations or the government taking no part and leaving negotiations entirely to employer and employees. This essay will critically analyse the advantage and disadvantage of state involvement in employee relations and finally leads to the discussion and conclusion of how to balance worker and employer’s interest in the extent to which government should be involved. There are three sections covered in the essay, firstly beginning with the framework of Government Issue and the central issue appear in employee relations, secondly describing the benefit of the state involvement in resolving the problems in employer and employee relations, and finally the alleged disadvantages of state involvement.

Industrial relations in modern Australia have been facing a number of challenges. The traditional conflict has been between wages and work conditions for employees versus the demands of management. This conflict revolves around the distribution of national income and productivity gains in the economy. With major changes in the regulatory framework, important factors in Australian employment relations in recent years have been the extent to which trade unions protect worker’s rights and how much should be left to the individual employee. Southerland and Riley (2010) noted the Work Choices Act and Fair Work Act have been enacted to clarify the extent of individual responsibility in negotiating conditions in the major areas of minimum wages, work hours, unfair dismissal and Occupational health and safety (OHS). Work Choices attempted to reduce government and trade union involvement by introducing individual contracts negotiated between employer and employee. Concerns were raised that employees often did not have either the knowledge or the strength to negotiate these contracts. Employers normally have a higher bargaining power over employees and will press for decreased wages and conditions in the pursuit of increased profits. Work Choices become extremely unpopular to the extent that it became a major contributor to a change of government. In 2009, the Fair Work Act was introduced to maintain flexibility in the workplace and protect workers as highlighted in Southerland and Riley (2010). The Fair Work Act addressed the issues of minimum wage rates, OHS standards, unfair dismissals and collective bargaining. However employers claim that the high implementation costs discourage employing workers and reduce business flexibility and competitiveness. The employers in general, would prefer a more de-regulated industrial relations system with more flexible labour market.

There are various arguments in support of state involvement in employment relations including the control of industrial disputes and worker protection where the rights of workers in general are protected in the areas of minimum wages, OHS, unfair dismissal, weekly work hours and maternity leave. Government involvement can reduce disputes in general. In this context, the impact of government legislation on number of working days lost due to industrial disputes has decreased. According to official government statistics, the number of working days lost due to industrial disputes has been falling between the years 2004-2008, which was the lowest number ever recorded in history ABS (2008). This would suggest the likely success of the Work Choices Act 2005 in...
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