The Cambridge Handbook of the Social Sciences in Australia

By Ian McAllister; Steve Dowrick et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Labour Market and
Industrial Relations
Jeff Borland

Over the past thirty years the Australian labour market has undergone a profound transformation. At the beginning of the 1970s the overwhelming majority of jobs were held by males working full-time. Most of those workers would have been the sole 'bread-winners' for their households. Low unemployment meant that there were few households without an adult in work. The majority of workers had not completed high school, and about one-third of the workforce was in agriculture and manufacturingindustry jobs. By the turn of the century none of these features can be recognised in the Australian labour market. Jobs (although not hours of work) are now almost evenly divided between males and females, and there are many households in which several members are employed.The rise of mass unemployment has meant that there is also a large group of households in which no member has a job. More than two-thirds of workers have completed high school or obtained a post-school qualification, and the finance, property and business services industry now accounts for more jobs than manufacturing industry.

It is the transformation of the Australian labour market that has provided the fundamental impetus for, and to a large extent defined the scope of, recent research work on labour-market and industrial-relations issues in Australia. That research has sought to document changes that have occurred, and to understand the sources and consequences of those changes in the Australian labour market.

The chapter has four main parts. The first section describes the key features of the Australian labour market today, and developments since the 1970s.The second presents a brief introduction to the concept of a labour market, and a schema for understanding the main determinants of labour-market outcomes. The third section reviews the main labour-market policies and institutions in Australia today, and their evolution over the past twenty to thirty years. A final section reviews research on a set of main themes on the operation of the Australian labour market.That research has covered a vast array of topics, and on any topic there is an extensive range of work to review.This is a point that is exemplified in journal publications in Australia. Between 1997 and 2001, about 25 per cent of articles published in the Economic Record, and 33 per cent of articles published in the Australian Economic Review, were on labour-economics-related topics. At the same time, there are at least four journals dedicated to labour-economics and industrial-relations

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