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GSBS6042 Employment Relations

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GSBS6042 Employment Relations

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GSBS6042 Employment Relations

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Course Code: GSBS6042
University: The University Of Newcastle is not sponsored or endorsed by this college or university

Country: Australia


‘Trade Union membership in Australia has declined significantly since the 1980s.  As a result, Unions are becoming an irrelevant actor in Australian Employment Relations’.
Drawing on academic research and commentary, consider the extent to which you agree or disagree with this statement.
In framing your argument, consider the antecedents and consequences of the decline in trade union membership.c sources as required.


Decline in the trade union membership
Unionism has been the part of the industries from the age of the industrialisation. In any organisation there are several members who had taken union membership. For a very period of time unions acted as a bridge between the firms and their collective demands. It had a great impact on the decision making of the organisation. At the same time it also had an impact on the human resource management. Union acted as a platform where the individual’s requests and collective needs have been discussed so as to put it in front of the management (Holland, Pyman, Cooper & Teicher, 2011). At the time when Australia was a part of colonial empire, there was shortage of labourers hence the companies used to easily agree upon the demands of the labourers. It made the individual’s request more powerful as they had the back-up. Since there were numbers of people from different segments of the society and from different cultural backgrounds hence large numbers of issues arises in their business operations. It was also helpful in removing the conflicts that arise between the employees and management.
After 1980, it is seen that numbers of people that are associated with Union Membership has decreased significantly. There are many reasons for this decrease but one of the significant reasons for this decrease is the lowering down of the power that union had in the decision making policies (Fairbrother, O’Brien, Junor, O’Donnell & Williams, 2011). With the change in the organisational structure in different organisations of Australia, it was found that companies started giving less importance to the trade unions. Structural change in the economy and the increasing unemployment due to enhanced technology use has made the situation worse. Even union was not able to resolve this problems hence problems for Australian Unionism increased. In 1992, the union density fell below than 40%. Now this number has gone below 20%.
Another significant reason for this decline was that before 1980s, union members were exclusively for the labours so as to protect their unprivileged rights. They use to safeguard the rights of employees who did not complete their apprentice (Sablok, Bartram, Stanton, Burgess & McDonnell, 2013). After 1980, machines started to replace people hence the numbers of labourers started to decrease in such industries.
It was also seen that before 1980s people used work in the industries without any contracts hence they were highly dependent on the unions for their stability. Things changed after 1980 were the jobs started to become more formal and contract based. Any breach of contract leaded an organisation to face legal challenges. There is also a fact that after 1990s when the unemployment started to rise in the society, the laws related to employment started to get strengthened (Haski?Leventhal, 2013). This reduced the participation of people in the affairs unions. For example the collective protest and lock-outs did not remained powerful as employees started to find legal routes instead to wasting their time with unions. They found the legal route to be more effective than to engage with the unions so as to make their demands fulfilled. It was also seen that Australia began to convert itself into the educational hub where lots of talents were coming up from different parts of the world. This was the reason that large numbers of employees began to get jobs in Australian firms who were from outside Australia (Yates & Fairbrother, 2013). These people did not get their representation in the union which has again demoralised them to be a part of the unions. In the changing complexion of the employment growth most of the people started to get best from the employees like the eight hour shifts and high pay scale.
On the other hand management tried to build an infrastructure that involved most of the level within the organisation in different operational procedures hence employees started to remain highly motivated. This again reduced the number of employees that were associated with the firm. Apart from this after 1980s the manufacturing industry of Australia was highly dominated by the companies that were multinational. These multinational companies did not allowed unionism to become essential part of the organisation (Wright & Lansbury, 2014). This was the reason that most of the organisations did not have the labour unions.
One another reason of employees not joining the trade unions was that it was highly politicised and lacked people actually participation. There were allegations regarding the union members playing as a puppet of the management and hence were unable to put the demands of the employees in front of the management. It was seen that people did not had control over the union hence the trust of the people started to come down. In some cases the union members took bribes from the company and made contracts that were not in favour of employees (Davis & LANSBURY, 2013). This created dissatisfaction in the minds of the employees and hence they did not find reasons for remaining attached with the union.
Previously for decades union acted as a centre of employee relations but now human resources management itself acted as a unit that works as a bridge between employees and the management. Companies developed an infrastructure where the voice of the people reached to the higher levels of the management (Bailey, Price, Pyman & Parker, 2015). Companies have lots of things at stake hence companies do not want to demotivate their staffs hence most of their demands gets fulfilled without intervention of the employees.
One of the major factors that led to reduction in the numbers of people in the union is that it was becoming complex to get into the union and reach at the top. Due to excessive internal politics most of the times there were fighting against each other so as to steal the position. It was also found that people that were from the local culture still did not gave space to the people that were from the other culture (Pekarek & Gahan, 2016). Organisational culture played a very crucial role in the orientation of the unions and from 1980 there were severe changes noticed in the organisational culture. These changes reduced the existence of unions at several organisations. At the same time it was also seen that bigger labour unions started to disintegrate into smaller ones which ultimately reduced the power of unions to act as a bigger force that could make companies to work in favour of employees. For example women union or unions representing particular segments of the society started to take the major part of the unionism in the country. ACTU acted as a regulatory body of all these smaller unions.
This problem got worst when anti-union legislation including provisions for individual Australian Workplace agreement has further reduced the powers of unions. At the same time there was introduction of individual Australian Workplace Agreements gave companies new weapons to maintain the healthy employee relations. For example Telstra was one of the initial companies that signed such kind of agreement. This again resulted in people coming out of the unions. Political parties of Australia also started to extend their reach to these unions which is having a direct impact on the operations of the firm (Markey & Townsend, 2013). This was the prime reason why companies started to scrutinise the employee unions so as to reduce the resistance that is caused by them. In order to fulfil their goals companies started to enhance their control on the different units. This reduction in power of the worker’s union has led to decrease in the numbers of people coming out of the union.
Along with this it was also found that the nature of the jobs has changed. This change in the nature of job can be noticed in terms of fact that outsourcing and offshoring jobs have increased. This has further reduced the role of the labour unions in the employee relations of Australia (Bailey & Peetz, 2013). Third parties or the contract labours have become more powerful hence people do not see benefit in joining the labour unions. The MNCs did not allow employees to join any type trade unions as they demand for complete loyalty from the side of the workers. If the employees do not follow company’s policies they might lose their job. This is also seen in the smaller private organisation which strictly prohibits the employees from doing any kind of politics.
By mid 1990s companies were aggressively pursuing anti-union strategies in the industries that were previously attributed by collective company-union bargaining, road transport, meat industry and coal mining. The fall of the communist parties was a moral setback to the unions. After 1980 the real age of capitalism occurred when neither government nor organisations wanted to have a parallel structure in their business that could act as a barrier in their decision making process. From 1980s it has also been seen that the middle mans in the business have been removed. Removing these middle man have ensured that exploitation of the labour remains at the minimum levels hence they do not feel the necessity to get attached with labour unions (Nicholson, Pekarek & Gahan, 2017). It was also seen that since all the employees were not at the same levels hence they did not participated in the protests or marches conducted by people at different levels. This lack of unity caused the protests to be weaker and hence making their demands not so powerful.
Apart from this, people also had less amount of time to indulge into daily or weekly meetings of the unions. At the same time it was seen that the decisions of the unions were not made involving people from all income groups. Internal democracy of the unions is at stake in most of the firms and hence the decisions were made involving only few people at the top (Gill & Meyer, 2013). This has lowered down the capabilities of such institution as less diverse and universally accepted decisions were made in such meetings.
Previously it was seen that people were less educated and did not aware of their rights hence they formed institutions that are leaded by some knowledgeable person having the capability to guide others too regarding their rights (Dobbie, Nahm & MacMillan, 2017). When the company aimed to bring some changes the first resistance came from the side of the union. This was one of the major reasons why companies tried to shatter all unions.
Due to less participation in the unions it automatically made itself out of the centre of public relations. Since it become a weak institutions that was not capable of putting the demands of the people and more importantly it did not represented all the people of the organisation hence it become an ineffective institution in the public relations (Bowden, 2011). Due to movement of people in the jobs it was seen that the people that are from the lower sections of the society was not able to reach at the top levels of unions. This again frustrated people to come out of such unions.
It can rather be considered as a phase where everything that was happening was good and there was lack of unity. With the increasing problems in the modern day organisation, it is further seen that people are again joining these institutions (Fairbrother, Junor, O’Brien, O’Donnell & Williams, 2011). In the time to come problems related to managing of human resource is going to increase and hence the chances of more people joining the union increases. Since Australian society is going to become one of the most hybrid societies hence the role of unions is going to become more critical.
Bailey, J., & Peetz, D. 2013. Unions and collective bargaining in Australia in 2012. Journal of Industrial Relations, 55(3): 403-420.
Bailey, J., Price, R., Pyman, A., & Parker, J. 2015. Union power in retail: Contrasting cases in Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations, 40(1): 1.
Bowden, B. 2011. The Rise and Decline of Australian Unionism: A History of Industrial Labour from the 1820s to 2010. Retrieved from:
Davis, E. M., & LANSBURY, R. D. 2013. Worker participation in decisions on technological change in Australia. New Technology (Routledge Revivals): International Perspectives on Human Resources and Industrial Relations, 100.
Dobbie, M., Nahm, D., & MacMillan, C. 2017. The impact of trade unions on work related training in Australia. Australian Journal of Labour Economics, 20(1): 263.
Fairbrother, P., Junor, A., O’Brien, J., O’Donnell, M., & Williams, G. 2011. The State, Depoliticisation and Unions. In Unions and Globalisation (pp. 144-179). Routledge.
Fairbrother, P., O’Brien, J., Junor, A., O’Donnell, M., & Williams, G. 2011. Unions and globalisation: Governments, management, and the state at work. Routledge.
Gill, C., & Meyer, D. 2013. Union presence, employee relations and high performance work practices. Personnel Review, 42(5): 508-528.
Haski?Leventhal, D. 2013. Employee engagement in CSR: The case of payroll giving in Australia. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 20(2): 113-128.
Holland, P., Pyman, A., Cooper, B. K., & Teicher, J. 2011. Employee voice and job satisfaction in Australia: The centrality of direct voice. Human Resource Management, 50(1): 95-111.
Markey, R., & Townsend, K. 2013. Contemporary trends in employee involvement and participation. Journal of Industrial Relations, 55(4): 475-487.
Nicholson, D., Pekarek, A., & Gahan, P. 2017. Unions and collective bargaining in Australia in 2016. Journal of Industrial Relations, 59(3): 305-322.
Pekarek, A., & Gahan, P. 2016. Unions and collective bargaining in Australia in 2015. Journal of Industrial Relations, 58(3): 356-371.
Sablok, G., Bartram, T., Stanton, P., Burgess, J., & McDonnell, A. 2013. The impact of union presence and strategic human resource management on employee voice in multinational enterprises in Australia. Journal of Industrial Relations, 55(4): 621-639.
Wright, C. F., & Lansbury, R. D. 2014. Trade unions and economic reform in Australia, 1983–2013. The Singapore Economic Review, 59(04): 1450033.
Yates, C. A., & Fairbrother, P. 2013. Unions in crisis, unions in renewal?. In Trade Unions in Renewal (pp. 15-45). Routledge.

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