Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

Award Restructuring, Workplace Reform and the Changing Nature of Australian Industrial Relations

Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

Award Restructuring, Workplace Reform and the Changing Nature of Australian Industrial Relations

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The nature of industrial relations in Australia has undergone considerable change with the increasing focus on the enterprise as the point of determination of employment relations. Productivity and efficiency are the dominant objectives of macro- and micro-economic policy and the industrial relations system itself is in transition to accommodate these policy objectives (Fells, 1992; Ludeke, 1992). The issue of debate has been over the pace of change. Some argue that the pace of change is not fast enough, pointing to what needs to be achieved (see for example Hilmer, 1989 and the BCA, 1989) continuing to argue that improvements in the workplace have only been moderate (BCA, 1993). At the same time others contend that the system is changing, pointing to what has been achieved, for example the best practice guide of the Department of Industrial Relations (1992). Given the differing points of comparison, the debate can be expected to continue.

There are several key dimensions to this reform debate. One dimension has been to emphasise the need to establish an enterprise focus with a compatible reform of union structure, as in the BCA policy. Another is the question of whether employee representation in workplace negotiation should not necessarily be through a union, as in the Liberal Party Jobsback! policy and raised in the Prime Minister's speech initiating his own government's post-election policy review (Keating, 1993). A further dimension is the issue of agreements (whether they be individual or collective) being legally binding and implicit in this issue is that of how disputes should be resolved. Finally there is the question of the appropriateness of minimum employment standards, and if there are to be such standards, how they should be determined-by legislation or by arbitration? These different dimensions are not mutually exclusive and appear in a variety of specific reform packages ranging from an 'open slather' vision of a deregulated individualistic legal relationship between employer and employee to a 'flexible status quo' reform package which involves a focus on enterprise bargaining with a safety net of standard award wage increases.

Debate and policy formulation is one thing; workplace practice is another. This paper examines the impact of change processes on the workplace and on the individual worker's choice to work more productively. (The paper makes no judgment about the validity of productivity and efficiency as a goal in relation to other objectives such as equity; for a discussion of these aspects see Buchanan and Callus, 1993). The method of analysis which will be employed is that suggested by Lewin (1947) and the impact of award restructuring on work at a mining company provides case study material.

The process of award restructuring was designed to stimulate a process of genuine reform, a process which is continuing within the framework of the Enterprise Bargaining Principle. It provided the opportunity for an examination of a wide range of issues ranging from career paths to consultation. Through award restructuring we should expect to find both management and unions developing new approaches, entering into cooperative relationships and negotiating over a wider range of issues (DIR, 1989; Plowman, 1990). The role of management is a central factor in any change process; award restructuring is no exception (Curtain et al, 1992; Rimmer and Verevis, 1990; Wooden and Sloan, 1990) and it presented management with a range of strategic choices ranging from cost minimisation to productivity enhancement (Curtain and Mathews, 1990). It is therefore appropriate to examine the actual impact of award restructuring on management.

The paper suggests that award restructuring has been facilitative rather than compelling in the pursuit of more productive workplaces and has, in fact, masked a more fundamental change which has been taking place in the nature of Australian industrial relations. …

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