Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

Enterprise Bargaining: The Truth Revealed at Last

Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

Enterprise Bargaining: The Truth Revealed at Last

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Enterprise bargaining: is it an engine of productivity growth, or a threat to pay equity and macroeconomic wage stability? Since the late 1980s there has been a rising clamour of claims and counter-claims on these questions. Many of these claims are fuelled by the supposed merits of enterprise bargaining in other countries, or by deductions from economic theory. But these are imprecise guides. We cannot settle the important questions about enterprise bargaining sitting behind our desks.

Meanwhile the intensity of debate has been heightened by sustained reliance upon enterprise bargaining as a cog in the mechanism of official wage and industrial relations policies. Since the 'restructuring and efficiency' principle was introduced in March 1987, workplace negotiations to raise business efficiency have been at the centre of the industrial relations stage. Of course seven years of policy have witnessed a great deal of change--in the name, form and objects of wages principles, in federal and state industrial laws, in government and opposition policy platforms, and in the attitudes and policies of employers and unions. But consistent throughout the twists and turns of policy has been an underlying and widespread view that Australian enterprises can become more productive if they embrace enterprise bargaining.

Has this shift towards enterprise bargaining succeeded in achieving policy objectives? There has been considerable official and private curiosity on this point. As a result, seven years of policy have been accompanied by seven years of research. Those who were involved will recall the first tentative steps in this research--Jon Zappala's literature review for the Business Council of Australia (BCA) (which disclosed prior neglect by researchers); Ron Callus and Russell Lansbury running a seminar upon workplace research at Sydney University (following which Melbourne and Sydney Universities banded together to win an Australian Research Council grant to study workplace industrial relations); and Peter Brannen, Roy Green and Joe Isaac urging the need for a workplace survey akin to the British surveys (following which the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) funded the first Australian Workplace Industrial Relations Survey (AWIRS).

Research followed on a sufficient scale that it is now appropriate to take stock of its results. Should we accept or repudiate the claims of economic theorists? Has enterprise bargaining made workplaces more efficient? Has it yielded perverse results such as pay inequity or macroeconomic wage instability, or will it in the future? Are we any closer to knowing what makes managers and unionists tick if they take up the invitation to bargain at the enterprise level?

The purpose of this paper is to review some of these questions on the basis of a selective reading of workplace research conducted since 1987. We begin with a discussion of research methods, which limit, to a considerable degree, the conclusions that can be drawn from research. We then focus upon two substantive questions. First, does Australia possess the infrastructure to sustain a system of enterprise bargaining. Second, has such bargaining delivered the results expected by policy makers? We close with an attempt to refine a question for future research. Was it false to expect enterprise bargaining to yield measurable productivity gains, and should its results be sought elsewhere?

2. Data Collection Methods

What we can claim to know about enterprise bargaining is limited by the type of research method we use and the quality of its use. Our concern here is with empirical methods for research, not a priori analysis. What methods have been applied by researchers in this field?

Textbooks on research methodology normally suggest that researchers should first formulate a question, and then select and apply an appropriate method to gather data capable of yielding an answer to that question. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.