Industrial Disputation and Trade Unions in Registered Clubs

By Buultjens, Jeremy | Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Industrial Disputation and Trade Unions in Registered Clubs


Buultjens, Jeremy, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management


The conventional wisdom is that there are low levels of unionisation and trade union involvement in the hospitality sector. In addition, it is argued that there are low levels of direct industrial action but that the industry's high level of turnover is an indication of strong individual action on behalf of employees. However, in Australia, because there have been few empirical studies it is difficult to ascertain the features of industrial relations in the hospitality industry. This paper adds to empirical knowledge by exploring various aspects of conflict and trade union involvement in registered clubs of NSW. The findings indicate relatively low levels of industrial conflict, unionisation and trade union involvement and a reliance on conciliation and arbitration in resolving conflict. In addition, business size, regional location and the level of unionisation have significant relationships with aspects related to trade unions and conflict.

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Australian industrial relations have often been described as "adversarial" (McGrath-Champ & Baird, 1996). Critics of the centralised system have argued that the application of awards and the involvement of third parties, such as trade unions, in the negotiation process have substantially contributed to the adversarial culture (e.g., Business Council of Australia [BCA], 1989; Barrat, 1995). However, the hospitality sector does not appear to have an adversarial culture. The conventional wisdom is that there are low levels of unionisation and trade union involvement in the hospitality sector (Davidson & Timo, in press; Buultjens & Cairncross, 2001). In addition, it is argued that employees do not resort to direct industrial action, instead, employees respond through other individual actions such as voluntary labour turnover, higher sickness and industrial injury rates (for example, Lucas, 1996; Piso, 1999). Yet, in Australia there have been few empirical studies into industrial relations in the hospitality sector to support the perceptions. In addition, the lack of empirical investigation into the sector has prevented an understanding of the factors affecting conflict and trade union involvement from emerging. This paper helps to provide some insight into conflict and the role trade unions play in the hospitality industry.

The paper explores the level of unionisation, trade union involvement and the level and cause of conflict in registered clubs of New South Wales, an important sector of the hospitality industry. The paper also provides details on statistical analyses undertaken to determine if business size, location and the level of unionisation have a relationship with the conflict and trade union variables in the sector.

The paper begins by examining industrial relations in the hospitality industry. This is followed by a discussion of the characteristics of the registered clubs sector. The study details and methodology are discussed next, followed by a description of the results from the survey. The discussion of the implications of the results is followed by a conclusion.

Industrial Relations in the Hospitality Sector

The hospitality sector is characterised by relatively low levels of unionisation and trade union involvement (Davidson & Timo, in press; Buultjens & Cairncross, 2001). For example, union membership in the "accommodation, cafes and restaurants" sector in 2001 was 10.3% compared to 24.7% for all industries (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2001). In addition, ABS data (1999a) suggests that the sector does not suffer greatly from organised direct industrial conflict, with the "accommodation, cafes and restaurants" sector in combination with "wholesale and retail" having the lowest number of conflicts of any industry sector. It is argued that high voluntary labour turnover, sickness and industrial injury rates are used instead of individual direct conflict in the sector (Lucas, 1996; Piso, 1999). …

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