Retail Trading Hours in Queensland: The Rise of Consumption in Industrial Relations?

By Maconachie, Glenda; Sappey, Richard B. | International Journal of Employment Studies, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Retail Trading Hours in Queensland: The Rise of Consumption in Industrial Relations?


Maconachie, Glenda, Sappey, Richard B., International Journal of Employment Studies


Recent changes to trading hours in the Queensland (Australia) retail industry have highlighted the changing role of industrial relations institutions. An emphasis on consumption has been reflected in the recent overturning by a state government of an industrial tribunal decision. This article explores the implications for the relationship between product and labour markets and the use of regulation through industrial relations institutions. It is suggested that consumption is of increasing relevance for industrial relations theory and practice.

INTRODUCTION

Recent changes to trading hours in the Queensland (Australia) retail industry have introduced Sunday trading to the Brisbane metropolitan area and high tourism areas of the Gold and Sunshine coasts. The purpose of this article is to examine these recent changes in the context of consumption. Our point of departure is the literature addressing consumption and the customer, to enhance understanding of both trading hours and notions about working time in contemporary employment in Australia. As both trading hours and working time are processed through, and legitimised as, determinations by one institutional body, in this case the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC), the interrelationship is important. The article examines relevant documentary data, particularly recent QIRC and legislative decisions, which illuminate attempts to control working time and product markets through trading hours arrangements in the retail industry. The specific area of reference is the south-eastern corner of Queensland, a state of Australia.

The research is based upon a single industry case study within the legislative confines of one state's industrial relations system. As such it carries the usual limitations to generalisability beyond these boundaries. In this sense, we regard the research as exploratory in nature, requiring further testing in more broad-based studies.

The article seeks more extensive explanations for decisions, particularly strategic decisions on the part of the principal industrial relations institutions, to broaden the theoretical and research parameters of important working and trading conditions. While this approach is consistent with the tradition of sociology informing industrial relations analysis for many decades (for example, Hill and Thurley, 1974), the exploration of working time and trading hours in the context of consumption and the customer recognises an important new area of sociological research.

Much of the history of industrial relations has been taken up with theory, practice and inducing policy for the purpose of making the complex web of conflict and cooperation in the production of goods and services operate in an economic sense. The end result of consumption has consequently largely been neglected until relatively recently (Heery, 1993; Frenkel, Korczynski, Shire and Tam, 1999).

Moreover, some have developed an important stream of theory and research which critically evaluates the connection between neo-liberalism as an economic system and the belief in the necessity to satisfy, or at least satisfice customers, which has come to be seen as akin to an impeccable logic from which employees as well as employers cannot escape (Du Gay and Salam an, 1992; Keat, 1994; Knights, Noble, Willmott and Vurdubakis, 1999; Sturdy, Grugulis and Willmott, 2001). More specifically, this literature emphasises the 'sovereign consumer' as the source of managerial decisions to redefine effort and replace established methods of compensation. To understand recent changes based upon the perception of market superiority as the principal determinant of living standards it is necessary to go beyond the walls of individual workplaces, and explore the impact of 'the discourse of enterprise' on the working environments of employees (Du Gay and Salaman, 1992; Keat, 1994). It is in this wider sense that we explore changes in working time and trading hours by examining the relationship between the institutional terrain and consumption. …

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