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In 1985, when John Howard assumed leadership of the Liberal Party his intention was to free up the labour market and alter the balance in the industrial relations system. He believed that governing was for the employees and not for the benefit of the union. The purpose here is to take the analysis a step further by identifying the benefits and services that trade unions can usefully provide. We also deal with the ways in which union provision might be improved, and with the different organisational structures which might be developed. For more than a century, trade unionism has been seen as a means of limiting or countering employer power. But trade unions generally have had few policies concerning the training and development of their members as employees. Unions have generally not sought vigorously to have employees’ rights in relation to training and development enshrined in legislation.
Unions are struggling to survive as a viable force in the 21st century, because of declining numbers and legislation changes. These changes known as WorkChoices and Fair Work Australia provide better resources in the workplace for employees. Furthermore Human Resource Management (HRM) now plays an important role handling Employment Relations often replacing the need for unions. HRM is the management of the employment relationship within the law – and those that go beyond the law to develop a good relationship with their staff will usually be highly rewarded for this through commitment, loyalty and motivation that will result in improved productivity.
Looking further at the report we will see how unions have deeply impacted our society and how changes in legislation have undermined the union movement but produced the Human Resource Management which has benefited the community as a whole.
Unions covering semi-skilled and unskilled workers commenced operations during the 1870s as did the first inter-union organisations. The 1880s saw the emergence both of larger unions, typically through amalgamation of local unions, and also of unions of white collar public servants. By 1890, some 350 unions were in existence (Quinlan & Gardner 1995).
‘Many workers on flexible employment contracts, or even without contracts, need the support that trade unions would be able to give them'(Croucher & Brewester 1998, pp.449). Findings show that new strategies have being adopted by unions, since the discovery of gold in 1850s, which created the environment for the development of trade unionism. ‘Trade Unions exist to assist workers with their rights in the workplace and represent them in improving wages and working conditions and achieving broader social reforms’ (Watt 2003, pp. 14). Their idea is much more can be achieved by working together and also it gives employees a stronger voice at work. These days if any employee has any problem in the workplace, he has to pay thousands of dollars at lawyers instead it’s better to do that same job by unions, which have low joining fees. Trade unions help in assisting and providing advice during wage negotiations, and by representing workers at industrial tribunals through the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC). Some of the examples are occupational health and safety, workers’ compensation, sexual harassment, discrimination and equal employee opportunity. All Trade Unions are affiliated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). ACTU is the upper most body that represents on behalf of Trade Unions in terms of better pay and working conditions. People could easily relate to their issues such as weekend and overtime penalty rates and unfair dismissal (Watt 2003).
“Unpaid overtime is a significant, and growing, issue in the Australian labour market” (Campbell 2002, pp.109). (Campbell 2002) describes in some professions Australians are not being paid for overtime work and it effects the working and living conditions of many employees. Trade unions have looked to this ongoing problem and to analyse the causes, which presents a challenge to unions. Managers and administrators in white collar occupations seem to work more unreimbursed overtime. If employees are unpaid for overtime work it can affect the quality as well as the quantity. This has results in increased number of memberships of unions.
(Barnes 2005) describes the formation of trade unions as uniting groups such as churches, welfare groups, civil libertarians and academics to raise public awareness of the legislation and also took into consideration job security and work/family balance. Year 2005 ended on a higher note as almost 2.5 million employed workers were identified as union members and a further 1.5 million wished to be members. Unions ran a multimillion dollar campaign under the ‘Your [email protected]’ banner. Drawing on the success of the [email protected] (Your Rights at Work) campaign, unions developed a new framework for future campaigns’ with six key priorities : a voice for working Australians and their families; improving wages and working conditions; creating a fairer society; growing union membership; organising workplaces, industries and sectors; and connecting with communities and regions. Unions have to respond to numerous challenges and have to win over the hearts and minds of the broader community.
Figures from 2004 have been disappointing as there has been a one percent decline in the union membership. The reasons behind the downfall are: offshoring, changes in work structure, increase in Human Resource Management, increase in casual employment, increase in privatisation, increase in education, poor public perception and changes to legislation. Some of the names of unions are: Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union (LHMU), National Union of Workers (NUW), Australian Services Union (Queensland), Queensland Public Sector Union, Electrical Trades Union (Victoria) etc. suggested a rise in union membership. (Barnes 2005)
Studies have shown ‘Unionism of the workforce in the hotel and catering industry has always been low’ (Macaulay & Wood 1992 p. 20). (Macaulay & Wood 1992) describes hotel and catering industry tends to suffer due to low pay, exploitative management and poor conditions of employment. It has been observed that managers and employers are hostile towards the involvement of trade unions and those who were against trade unions seemed to have strikes and disputes. It is mostly observed that managers take unitary approach to industrial relations. At the times where there have been issues with recruitment or sacking of any employee, unions played a major role in solving the issues. Today people working in hospitality are joining unions for their own safety and security in the long term in order to get their right pay, help in any kind of unfair dismissal and to deal with grievances and problems related to sexual assault (Macaulay & Wood 1992)
In some European countries studies have found union membership remains high, as it gives access to unemployed and creates a financial base for them and also unions protect their organisational and financial future. The main emphasis is developing an organisational culture within the members and the unions. (Kessler 1995)
(Barnes, 2005) describes in 2005 the Australian government changed the century old model to a deeply anti-union model known as WorkChoices, which provoked a strong media campaign, which was led primarily by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). Workplace Relations Act 1996, amended by the Workplace Relations amendment act 2006, popularly known as WorkChoices came into effect in March 2006 introduced by Howard government in 2005. WorkChoice is deeply anti-union and it is quite unashamedly aimed at further reducing union bargaining power. It directly affects the individual workers, such as the implications of Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) and removal of remedies for unfair dismissal. This is the most significant change in the legislation and also damaging for the unions. It is a move towards unitary national system of workplace relations and simplification of awards (terms and conditions of employment applied to industry). ACTU argued the purpose of the WorkChoices was to reduce, undermine and strip back employee rights.
Legislative changes commencing in 1996 saw a strengthening of the legal framework for agreement making at the workplace and enterprise levels on both an individual and collective basis, with collective agreements able to be reached directly with employees as well as with unions’ (Bernie 1998, pp. 82). (Bernie 1998) describes when Howard government came to the office the policy was aimed at: measures to guarantee freedom of association; one having clear right and responsibilities and support of awards and agreements; direct relationship and agreement making between employers and employees with no major role of third parties such as unions, employer associations and industrial tribunals.
In 2008 two major pieces of legislation were introduced to the Australian Parliament by the Deputy Prime Minister, and Workplace Relations Minister, Julia Gillard. The first, Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Act 2008 was introduced to Parliament and came into effect on March 2008. The two key elements in this act was not to allow any more new Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) and secondly it introduced a new ‘no disadvantage test’ against which agreements would be judged. AWAs were first introduced by Howard government by the Workplace Relations Act 1996. There is also introduction of the new National Employment Standards (NES) and the creation of modern awards (Cooper 2008).
‘The Fair Work Act 2009 has been fully operational since the beginning of 2010. It replaced the Work Relations (WorkChoices) Amendment Act 2005’ (Sloan 2010, pp.19). This article focuses on FWA that differ significantly from WorkChoices and the issue of modern awards. (Sloan 2010) describes in today’s world employers are more concerned with awards, unfair dismissals in industries such as retail, accommodation and food services. ‘The key parts of the FWA are: National employment standards, Modern awards, Enterprise agreements, Low-paid bargaining, Minimum wages, Unfair dismissal, Industrial action, Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman’ (Sloan 2010, pp.19). The aim of FWA here is to concentrate the issues and flexibility of terms and conditions of employment between employer and employee and to set minimum wages and conditions, solve industrial disputes and approve agreements. FWA created more than 100 awards to deal with complex complications for example employees working in a hotel are paid higher weekend penalty rate than café workers where they should be covered by the same new award. (Sloan 2010) states a Melbourne firm named Pop Art had made several enquiries about the correct rates of pay to its workers but was still issued a notice from the Fair Work Ombudsman for back pay amounting to $700,000 (Sloan 2010). FWA did a great job in restoring unfair dismissal provisions for all employees. Since FWA became the law the number of unfair dismissal cases has soared. In 2009-2010, there were nearly 12,000 applicants for unfair dismissal, which is an increase of 50%. The Fair Work Ombudsman seeks to examine complaints, recover underpayment of wages, and impose penalties. It also undertakes audits of particular industry segments, including retail and security (Sloan 2010). FWA is a stronger safety net and assists parties to resolve workplace grievances, resolve unfair and unlawful dismissal claims, adjust minimum wages and award conditions, regulate registered industrial organisations, monitor workplace laws, awards and agreements (Sloan 2010).
Human Resources play an important role in today’s world and have a huge influence on Human Resources practices on employees. At present the number of memberships towards trade unions have dropped as Human Resources have emerged in this era and people have a positive attitude towards HR. Human Resources ‘contribute towards the improvement of the organisational and also towards individual performance’ (Prowse & Prowse 2010, pp. 145). With the emergence of Human Resource Management, it is concerned more with employee welfare to the development of workforce relationships. HRM is critical of the organisational effectiveness. There are different techniques which have been designed to evaluate the outcomes of HRM to improve organisational and individual performance, job satisfaction and links this to performance in organisations. ‘Over the last 30 years there has been an increased interest in HRM’ (Prowse & Prowse 2010, pp. 146) and it is a different way of managing people. (Prowse & Prowse 2010) In some organizations HRM has different names. It can be known as industrial relations, employee relations, personnel management and human resource management. In other words it’s the relationship between organsiations and emloyees.
HRM have increased workforce productivity and commitment, enhanced job satisfaction and discouraged unionism. They focus on individualism rather than collectivism and aim to improve the performance of employees to achieve their job. HR work directly rather than getting engaged with any third party, increased emphasis on information sharing, collective decision-making and employee participation (Prowse & Prowse 2010). (Prowse & Prowse 2010) argues that the practice of HRM is comprised of a range of organisational activities that focus on a number of activities like development, recruitment and management of employees.
Looking at the general role of trade unions, they played an important role, particularly with the launch of their campaign (Your Rights at Work). Their image emerged successfully within the community. They were the voice for working Australians and their families; improving wages and working conditions; creating a fairer society; growing union membership; organising workplaces, industries and sectors; and connecting with communities and regions but the year 2005 was one in which unions were able to campaign around the issue of the WorkChoices legislation without being subject to it. In 2006 unions faced the formidable tasks of continuing to win over public opinion, of finding innovative ways to organise and grow, of responding quickly to change, and of developing new Industrial Relations policies as a political counter to those of the Howard Government. The great threat, however, is that unions, confronted with declining membership, increased employer militancy and punitive legislation. ACTU campaigns were saying don’t go back to WorkChoices.
Fair Work Australia emerged in the beginning of 2010 and has been fully operational in giving society a fair go towards general protection, unfair dismissal, right of entry and stand down provisions and modern awards. Also the functions of Workplace Ombudsman (WO) have been replaced by Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) and will take over the advisory role currently performed by the Workplace Authority. Increase in HRM in the 21st century has seen a decline towards unions as in large corporate organisations employees see Human Resources as an easy way to solve disputes and internal organisation problems related to work conditions.
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