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This paper explores the history of government, employee and employer associations and their effects and influence on the employment relationship in Australia. It also considers how these stakeholders may influence the relationship in the future.

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Introduction

This paper explores the history of government, employee and employer associations and their effects and influence on the employment relationship in Australia. It also considers how these stakeholders may influence the relationship in the future. Industrial relations involves a number of "actors" including employees and their unions, employers and their associations and the governments that make regulations governing the employment relationship. It is closely entwined with political, economic and social forces (Stone, 1995). It is the key actors in this relationship that shape the macro economic and social conditions under which employers and employees must conduct their relationship. The role of the government, or the State, in this relationship is important as it establishes substantive rules for the workplace (such as leave and working hours), sets out procedural rules to limit ways in which employers and employees conduct their bargaining and disputes, and determines policies on such matters as income, employment, inflation and tariff protection (Deery and Plowman, 1988). The 'State' is characterised by a number of permanent political institutions comprising parliaments (to pass laws), governments (to implement and administer laws) and judiciaries (to ensure the laws are applied correctly). The 'State' also encompasses a myriad of political and administrative apparatus that support these institutions which essentially control and administer the running of the country. ...read more.

Middle

and that the approach of government to industrial relations, moreover, is influenced by the political philosophy of the party in power (Stone, 1995). Australian Trade Unions consist of a large and diverse range of organisations. They differ not only in their objectives, but in their interests and activities. They often hold conflicting political ideologies, pursue varying industrial tactics and serve different interests and roles (Deery and Plowman, 1991). In the view of the general public, they are the most influential group in Australian society today, ahead of the Federal Government, the media and multi-national companies (Dufty and Fells, 1989 p 40). Trade unions have existed for well over 150 years in Australia and during this time have been successful in gaining significant improvements for their members, particularly with respect to wages and working conditions. The origins of trade unions in Australia go back as early as the 1800's, but it wasn't until the 1870's when unions were finally legalised despite the efforts of the State and employers who up until then, had sought to eliminate them. The massive strikes of the 1890's were mainly over employers right of freedom of contract. The employers aided by a bountiful supply of unemployed "scab" labour and a sympathetic government, had forced the unions into total submission and effectively destroyed their capacity to bargain effectively (Deery and Plowman, 1991). ...read more.

Conclusion

This will need to be addressed if unions are to survive and prosper. The early strength of the union movement and the nature of the arbitration system encouraged the development of employer associations and led to them placing an emphasis on industrial relations activities. The early opposition of Australian employers to recognising the principles of collective bargaining has given way to a begrudging acceptance of unions as a legitimate actor in the employment relationship (Walker, 1970). In contrast to the national unity of trade unions, national employer representation is fragmented with groups tending to represent their particular industry or sector. Over the period 1890 to 1980 five different structures have attempted to present a united employer opposition to trade unions namely ; the mutual defence model, the federation model, alliance model, secretariat model and the confederation model (Gardner and Palmer, 1997). The Workplace Relations Act 1996 has enabled great changes in the way the employment relationship is managed. The current Liberal Government has set a path for the future by decreeing that individual bargaining is preferable, through the introduction of Australian Workplace Agreements with collective bargaining at the enterprise level next in order of preference only if individual agreements are not possible (Kennoy and Kelly, 1998). The emphasis on individual agreements is certain to be the future path for the employment relationship. ...read more.

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