What's in Australian Workplace Agreements in the Hospitality Industry? A Content Analysis
Van Barneveld, Kristin, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management
This article unpacks the content of Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) in the hospitality industry and makes a comparison with collective agreements that have been negotiated in the industry. The article reveals that, in the hospitality industry, AWAs are minimal documents when compared to collective agreements, with AWA employers achieving wages and hours flexibility at the expense of employee entitlements. The lack of innovative provisions in AWAs suggests that, in an industry where low labour costs have a significant impact on the organisation's bottom line, there is a temptation for employers to use AWAs to decrease these costs as much as possible. There is little evidence of AWAs being used for alternate purposes to foster positive employee relations, or to encourage and reward employees for good performance. Whether this approach will benefit the industry in the longer term is questionable. However, with the simplified agreement making process that was introduced through the Work Choices amendments to the Workplace Relations Act 1996, it is suggested that AWAs will become an even more attractive form of employment for hospitality employers.
To date there have been no industry-specific studies of the outcomes of AWAs for certain groups of workers. This is despite the literature suggesting that workers in some industries, such as hospitality, would be worse off as a result of the individualisation of their employment relationship (Bramble, 2001; Carlson et al., 2001; Peetz, 2001; Pocock, 1996; Preston & Crockett, 1999; Roan et al., 2000; Strachan & Burgess, 2001; van Barneveld & Arsovska, 2001). This article investigates the content of AWAs for workers in the hospitality industry and compares this against outcomes achieved through collective bargaining. The article explores whether hospitality AWA workers are, indeed, worse off.
Firstly, the extent of AWAs in the industry is outlined. Secondly, the methodology used in data collection and analysis is briefly outlined. Thirdly, specific provisions of hospitality industry AWAs are measured against collective agreement content. Finally, the processes behind the making of AWAs and the changes introduced through the Work Choices amendments to the Workplace Relations Act 1996 are discussed before concluding comments are made.
The Extent of AWAS in the Hospitality Industry
Although the hospitality industry has been typically categorised as award-reliant (Barnes & Fieldes, 2000; Bell, 1992; Buultjens & Cairncross, 2001, Buultjens & Howard, 2001), it is clear that an increasing number of workers are having their wages and conditions determined by an agreement.
Data from the website of the Office of the Employment Advocate (OEA), the body which approves AWAs, reveal that hospitality employers were the third largest users of AWAs in the 3 years to the end of December 2005, after the retail, and property and business services. During that period, 12.6% of the 514,800 AWAs approved covered employees working in the hospitality industry (broadly defined as including accommodation, cafes and restaurants approximately 65,900 AWAs). By way of comparison, OEA data suggest that at the end of September 2005, just 6600 employees in the hospitality industry had their wages and conditions determined by a union negotiated certified agreement and a further 7500 by a non-union certified agreement.
Caution, however, must be noted when considering these figures. Firstly, the AWA data includes all AWAs made in the hospitality industry for the 3 years up to 31 December 2005, while the certified agreement figures are those current at 30 September 2005. Given the high labour turnover in the industry, it is misleading to assume that all 65,900 workers remain employed under that AWA. Secondly, while the use of AWAs might seem high compared to the extent of collective agreements, the OEA's data ignore the high proportion of workers in the industry who are employed under the relevant award. …