Summative academic essay

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Competitive 8


The employment relations reforms in Australia have been the focal point of political and economic discussions in the past two decades. It began as an enterprise bargaining by the government in the later years of 1980’s with the assistance of the trade union movements with an intention of decentralizing the labor relations in Australia (Harkness, 2008). More changes to the labor relations have been introduced by the Howard coalition government in the middle of 1990s in order to make it hard for labor involvement by making the issue of labor relationship a personal affair. The responses from the workers to the changes in the labor sector are varying. Some of the workers have tried to come up with movements that are not union related to advance their courses while others have resorted to the use of a more cooperative way to the changes (Hawke and Wooden, 1998). This essay aims to discuss the rationale for workplace relations reform. It goes ahead to establish the winners and losers of the changes as well as the reasons why are Australian voters reluctant to accept an individual workplace bargaining system.

The rationale for workplace relations reform in Australia

The labor party that was the ruling party from 1983 to 1986 sought to introduce change through an accord with the labor movements. In the accord, the labor unions consented to the moderation of demand for wages with an aim of reducing the level of inflation as the government of the day took an undertaking to introduce and affect a number of social as well as economic reforms. The government also introduced a process of the labor sector changes with the help of the labor unions that involved the decentralization of the system of labor relations (Mitchell, et al., 2010).

During the 1990 periods, the government liberalized the labor market by allowing the non-union negotiations in the place of work. It is important to look at the relationship that exist between the changes in the labor market at the national level and that the workplace level. This is very essential in Australia for instance since employment relations have highly been institutionalized from as early as the beginning of the 20th century and the labor movements have had an important role to play in the regulation of the employment market (Lansbury, 2000). The reforms in the industrial relations have been the key agenda of the major parties in Australia over the past two decades. Both parties have stressed the need to have a more flexible labor market reforms and workplace change although they have differed on the means of achieving this course. The reforms sought to do away with the labor movements and put in place a system where individuals engage the employer on the issues pertaining the workplace conditions without involving the labor movements with some sets standards to check it (Taylor, 2016).

In 2004, the Howard regime sought to bring more reforms to the labor market by eliminating the influence of the labor movements. It also went ahead to liberalize the labor market by doing away with the safety nets that set a standard to the agreements (Stewart, 2015). This however did not go well with the employees in Australia considering that the high unemployment rate in the country would mean that the desperate job seekers are likely to consent to any terms set by the employers in order to secure a job, making it easy for the employers to manipulate them (Stewart, 2015).

The winners and losers of the labor relations reforms in Australia

The introduction of the labor relation effect has had a varied response from the stakeholders in the labor market. There are those that gained from the reforms while there are those that lost in the same reforms. The definite gainers in this case are the employers at the enterprise level. Although the response of the employers has been varied, the employers in the mining sector decided to take advantage of the of the labor relations reforms by the government of Australia to reduce or in some cases do away with the influence of the unions at the level of the enterprise (Stewart, 2011). These means that workers in these companies are open to manipulation and pay cuts as well as carrying out the terms of employment at their own terms that could disadvantage the workers (AIRC 2008).

The losers in the in the new labor relations reforms are the individual employees and the labor movements. It is very unfortunate that the recent changes were introduced without much consultation with the country’s workforce. At a period when the rate of unemployment is so high and a high proportion of the workforce are on casual contract and therefore very likely to accept the changes in the working environment which is sought by the employers (AIRC 2008). The labor unions too lost in the sense that they no longer had any influence during the negotiations on work related issues of their members. This is because of the decentralization of the labor market that made it possible for non-union agreements as well as the individualization of the labor market such that the individual workers were at liberty to negotiate their working conditions directly with their employers. This greatly eliminated the influence of the labor movements in Australia (Stewart, 2011).

Like has been the case in all the reforms all over the world, there has to be winners and losers not only in an economic perspective, but also in the Ideological point of view. This therefore means that whether the reforms are good or bad depends on the ideology, identity as well as the economic sense of the people who effect as well as those affected by the changes (Stewart, 2011).

Why are Australian voters reluctant to accept an individual workplace bargaining system?

The Howard administration was eager to have a system in place where individual workers negotiated their own terms without the involvement of the tribunal and any other form of collective bargaining. They had tried a number of times to achieve this course but failed due to their numerical disadvantage (Harkness, 2008). They however achieved the numbers in the 2004 elections where they garnered a majority in both houses and immediately passed the work choices legislation. It provided for the workplace agreements in Australia which were based on a one on one negotiations between the employee and the employer (Stewart, 2011). The legislation went ahead to remove the standards that existed before that had to be met for the agreement to be valid. The standards acted as a safety net for both parties as it set the minimum standards under which the labor relations could operate. The result is that for a certain period of time, there was no standardized way of doing things in the labor market against which the agreements between the individuals and the enterprises could be anchored and of course measured (Harkness, 2008).

In the 2007 elections, it was apparent that the voters in Australia were not happy with the Work Choices. The workplace legislation is in fact believed to be the reason that led to Prime Minister Howard losing the elections. The voters believed that the legislation left the employees exposed to manipulation by the employers since there was no collective bargaining yet the individual agreements had no safety net that can offer protection to the employees from exploitation by the enterprises (AIRC 2008). The labor government was elected back under the leadership of Kevin Rudd and the work choices legislation was immediately replaced by the fair work act which put in place the ten standards of employment in Australia and an additional ten standards were included in the awards. The new administration aimed to make amendments to the mess that was introduced to the Australian labor market by the Howard regime (Stewart, 2011).


In conclusion and as Australia considers how to perfect the labor market, it is crucial to put into consideration the new social partnership between the workers, labor unions and the government of the day for the reforms to have a meaningful result. It was not possible to achieve it in the Howard led administration but under the current regime it is the hope of the sharehoilde3rs that the government might find an option that would be more attractive to the government, the workers and the labor movements. Any reform agenda for the labor market needs to have in its priorities the flexibility of the labor market as well as the important role that the labor movement plays in collective bargaining for the benefit of the Australian workers (King and Stilwell, 2006). The government too needs to step up its role of providing a mechanism that creates a level playing ground for all the parties to the labor relations agreements. It should be able to fund independent agencies that foster dispute resettlement and bringing all the parties together. The government of the day needs to realize that the ultimate voice of the worker is supreme since they will voice their concerns during the electioneering period. It therefore means that the earlier something is done about their grievances, the better. There is the need however for dialogue amongst the stakeholders in the labor market. This would demand a lot of negotiations in order to reach a compromise that will meet the needs and opinions of the different players.


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Mitchell, R, Gahan, P, Stewart, A., Cooney, S and Marshall, S 2010, ‘The Evolution of Labour Law in Australia: Measuring the Change’, Australian Journal of Labour Law, Vol. 23, No. 1, 61-93.

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Stewart, A 2011, ‘The Relation Between Function and Form in the Main Federal Industrial Tribunals’, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 1, No. 53, p. 596-615

Taylor, L 2016, ‘Senate voting reform stirs up hornet’s nest between likely winners and losers’, The Guardian. Retrieved from