Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

The future for employer-union partnerships

By Paul Gollan - posted Monday, 6 October 2008

With the introduction of the Rudd Government’s final IR reform legislation anticipated later this month with its predicted focus on industrial relations consensus and workplace negotiation, attention is now turning to the ability and willingness of employers and unions to form strategic partnerships at the workplace.

This will be associated with greater employee and union consultation with management over business decisions as a means to balance the needs of shareholders in maximising financial returns and satisfying workers demands for greater job security and real wage increases.

While the Rudd Government is finalising the detail of the last instalment of its industrial relations reforms, the union movement is stepping up its campaign to influence key proposals in the Rudd Government’s “Forward with Fairness” legislation.


These include abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), removing WorkChoices restrictions on union’s right to enter workplaces and outlawing pattern and multi-bargaining, and introducing good faith bargaining provisions in the Rudd Government’s workplace reform legislation.

This changing IR environment has also been matched by the changing political environment as the new Labor Government cements its position as the party of the “progressive centre” of Australian politics. The rhetoric is not unlike former British Prime Minister Tony Bair’s Third Way politics of the mid 1990s where union’s role in Labour Party policy was greatly reduced and more centralised workplace partnership approaches were encouraged through changes in legislation and financial incentives.

Significantly, this included establishment of £5 million “Partnership Fund” which was part of a set of legislative reforms encouraging industry to embrace the concept of partnership through the adoption of initiatives to find ways best develop consensus and understanding between unions and employers.

Underpinning this approach was a centrist political philosophy of governance. Advocated by the centre-left of politics, it embraces a mix of free market and interventionist philosophies. For some trade unions in Britain it represented a undermining of left-wing values and a betrayal of Labour’s working class roots.

However, whatever the criticisms from left wing British unions, the Blairite years did introduce legislative reforms which included union recognition and union-employer partnership initiatives along with other reforms including the establishment of a minimum wage and the acceptance of European Directives over working time arrangements and family leave arrangements.

In Australia, unions are reigniting their IR reform campaign to challenge some aspects of the Federal government’s IR agenda and have targeted left leaning Labor MP’s to force changes to current Rudd workplace reform proposals. This is especially in relation to the attempts by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and Construction Forestry Mining and Engineering Union (CFMEU) to abolish Australian Building and Construction Commission and ensure changes to collective bargaining and union rights to entry provisions.


Employers have also taken the opportunity to use current non-union enterprise agreements to by-pass unions. As a consequence, there has been precious little evidence from unions or employers of developing a union-employer partnership approach along British lines.

For Australia the lack of willingness from employers who wish to maintain managerial prerogative over the decision-making process, and from unions who fear their power will be diluted and principles in standing up for workers compromised are major challenges to developing a partnership approach in Australia.

Traditionally unions see their role and interest in conflict to management based on protecting workers interests as opposed to management interests in maximising returns for shareholders. This view is outdated and ignores the realities of the new modern workplace and the development of a capitalist society.

While changes in the workplace with the introduction of greater workplace driven productivity pay increases and superannuation based on stock market performance have given greater common interest between workers and employers at the workplace, the challenges for a consensus based partnership approach in Australian workplaces seems as elusive as ever.

Whatever past political and ideological positions, unions and employers will need to understand the interests of workers is in the best interest for the firm, and recognised such shared interests will provide value not only for shareholders in the future but also for workers.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

3 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Paul J. Gollan is an associate professor, Department of Business, Macquarie University and an associate fellow in the Employment Relations and Organisational Behaviour Group at the London School of Economics. He is co-editor to Partnership at Work published by Pluto Press.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Paul Gollan

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Paul Gollan
Article Tools
Comment 3 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy