THE STUDY OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS
THE CHANGING NATURE OF WORK
n a t u re and
c o n t e x t of
re l a t i o n s
the study of industrial
After reading this chapter you should be able to:
Distinguish between the ‘commonsense’ and ‘theoreticallyinformed’ definitions of ‘industrial relations’. Provide examples of industrial-relations situations and events. Discuss the similarities and differences between three
ideological perspectives on the nature of the
employment relationship—namely, ‘pluralism’,
‘unitarism’ and ‘radicalism’.
Identify the different analytical tools
used in three approaches to the study
of the employment
relationship—namely, ‘neoinstitutionalism’, ‘human
resource management’ and
Critically assess the strengths
and weaknesses of different
approaches to the study of the
Understand the approach to the
study of industrial relations that is
used in the rest of this book.
Everyone who derives an income through work or who becomes involved in the organisation and management of employees at work is immersed in the practice of industrial relations. The overall quality of the employment relationship and changes in industrial relations can have an important effect on the overall performance of an organisation. At the same time, the terms and conditions of employment directly affect the quality of employees’ working lives and their capacity to enjoy many aspects of their lives outside of work. These issues of ‘efficiency’ and ‘equity’—the contributions of industrial relations to the wellbeing of work organisations and even the national economy on the one hand, and the consequences of changing industrial relations for employees on the other—are central themes in recent national policy debates, in strategic deliberations in company boardrooms and in more everyday discussions in cafes and around kitchen tables.
A recent policy controversy in Australia, for example, has been the protection of employee entitlements. The failure of large corporations, like HIH Insurance or Ansett Airlines, has meant that employees may not have received accumulated entitlements like long service leave, holiday pay and superannuation because secured creditors gained first access to the remaining assets of those corporations. During 2002, a national policy debate unfolded that focused, on the one hand, on the capacity of alternative schemes proposed by different political parties to deliver protection to employees and, on the other hand, on the likely impact of increased costs and regulations that arose from those schemes on the efficiency of viable ongoing companies (Burgess and Baird 2003). A prime example of the efficiency–equity theme at the company level came from an announcement—in August 2003 by the chief executive officer (CEO) of Qantas, Australia’s largest domestic and international airline—of a strategic move by Qantas to ensure that one-quarter of its workforce work on a part-time or casual basis. This ambition, which the CEO regarded as necessary for the viability of the airline in a constantly changing marketplace, has been disputed by trade union representatives as an unacceptable impost on the wages and employment security of employees (see the Qantas case study at the end of Chapter 5). On a more mundane but no less important level, many of the decisions of courts and tribunals—like payments to former employees for unfair dismissals or compensation to employees who are subject to discrimination—are publicised by popular television programs and become ‘hot’ topics of...
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