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This chapter will enable readers to understand the:
concept and varieties of employee voice and of voice channels
development of employee voice in an Australian context
importance of employee voice for organisations and their employees
comparative efficacy of different employee voice channels
importance of power and influence when analysing employee voice.
The contemporary Australian workplace relations landscape, as in many other Anglo-American advanced market economies, is strongly influenced by neo-liberal ideologies. Related to this has been a series of important developments, including declining trade union membership and density, the emergence of sophisticated human resources management (HRM) strategies focusing on the individual and the rise of enterprise bargaining. These changes have had a significant effect on the structure and practice of workplace relations, not least on the ways in which management variously communicates, interacts with and involves the workforce or its representatives in the organisation and its processes (which we refer to here as ‘employee voice’). The shift in the locus of decision-making power to the workplace level, and a focus on direct communications between employers and employees, increasingly is becoming the norm so that forms of voice involving unions are generally in decline in the English-speaking world. As unions and union voice channels in the workplace have become more marginalised, this has acted as both a cause and a catalyst for the development of alternative voice channels in many – usually larger – organisations. These fundamental changes in workplace relations have stimulated increased interest in new patterns of employee voice and employee participation in Australia, specifically in terms of establishing and utilising effective mechanisms to engage employees and manage the employment relationship.
Our field of study was for a long time referred as industrial relations or labour relations, and in Australia these designations remained unchallenged until the early 1980s, when employer organisations – particularly the then newly formed Business Council of Australia (BCA) and later right-wing think tanks, such as the HR Nicholls Society – challenged what they regarded as the anachronistic and obstructionist collectivist/class conflict paradigm of the ‘industrial relations club’ (Stone 2006). In Australia, possibly the most influential and coherent critique was that provided under the auspices of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) (1989). The BCA posited a model of employee relations that looked very much like an Australian version of strategic human resources management (SHRM) (Beer et al. 1984), and this led the BCA to advance two key propositions: first, that the key to enterprise success is in finding competitive advantage; and second, that in the relationship between employer and employees, there is no room for third parties. In other words, in employment regulation unions, industrial tribunals – and even employer associations – were a distraction, or at worst an interference. While the term ‘employee relations’ continues to have currency in the Australian academic literature, its usage does not imply endorsement of a particular reform agenda; rather, it emphasises the shift in focus to the employment relationship. In Australia more recently, the term ‘workplace relations’ has emerged to describe the changing field of study to which this book is devoted – for example, issues associated with monitoring and surveillance and employee voice are very much workplace relations issues rather than institutional aspects of the workplace in the twenty-first century. Significantly, the term ‘workplace relations’ has also found favour with both of the major political parties.
In this book, we have applied the label ‘workplace relations’ to our study in order to enable us to focus on those features of the regulation of work and employment that are distinctive, and reflect Australia’s history, economy and society. At the same time, we have attempted to place the study in its international context and to emphasise those things in the Australian experience that are shared by other nations. This attempt to draw out what is shared as well as that which is distinctive is at the heart of our emphasis on the impact of globalisation and neo-liberalism (Chapter 1) and the Australian employment model (Chapter 2), which draws out what is distinctive and shared with other developed nations.
The major features of the Australian system of bargaining – the labour market and the interrelated welfare system and economic context – have been considered, both in the thematic chapters and the analytical case study chapters. These features form what can be called the interacting elements of the Australian employment model. They conform to aspects of the liberal or Anglo-American model of capitalism, but also are the result of the unique historical development of the Australian workplace relations, economic and welfare system. Structural changes to the economy and the labour market – such as the shift from manufacturing to knowledge and services, and the growth of female employment – are common to the social democratic and conservative model of capitalism, as well as the liberal one (see Chapter 2 for further discussion of these models). However, the ways in which these changes are played out in these three models show significant differences due to the trajectories of political history, including the interactions between the state, employers and unions. The evolution of these trajectories continues in each of the three models, and is influenced by underlying economic and technological forces.
This chapter will enable readers to understand the:
development of neo-liberal policies in Australia and the implications for workplace relations and the employment model
internationalisation of the Australian economy, the floating of the Australian dollar, and the growth in international trade and foreign capital investments
impact of neo-liberalism on the opening up of Australian industry to global competition, and the privatisation and outsourcing of major elements of the public sector
way in which the neo-liberal reforms, combined with the relaxation of controls on finance, led to heightened risks for employees and those who depend on them.
In this chapter, we discuss the development since 1980 of ‘neo-liberalism’, ‘globalisation’ and the expanding role of the financial sector in economic activity – often referred to as ‘financialisation’ – as well as the implications of these changes for the workplace (Kotz 2008). As we will see, these are not three discrete developments, but their evolution and interaction are important, for they reveal the sorts of pressures that are faced by employers, and that are experienced in workplaces and working lives.
This chapter will enable readers to understand the:
ways in which the Australian Public Service (APS) has changed both procedurally and structurally in an era in which market principles are pervasive
impact of adopting a private enterprise approach to management, both at the level of service delivery and in managing its workforce
challenges of workforce planning in light of demographic changes in the sector
effect of decentralisation policies on the ability to operate as one APS
internal and external environmental factors that most impact on effective public service delivery – especially the impact of changes of government on workplace relations arrangements and management.
The Australian Public Service (APS) comprises a suite of agencies and departments charged with providing a diverse range of services to a growing and changing Australian population. From schoolteachers, nurses, armed-forces personnel and other direct service providers, to those who work in the administration of policy and program development, the operations of the APS span the public, private and not-for-profit sectors as each has become involved in the delivery of government services. The delivery of these services does not exist in a vacuum. Governments in Australia and most developed nations are influenced in their decision-making by the prevailing views and ideologies – not the least of which is neo-liberalism. As we explained in Chapter 1, these ideologies are driven by beliefs regarding how best to use public taxes and income to deliver government services. This chapter examines the APS by providing an overview of the service and an account of the challenges it faces in providing government programs, payments and services, while seeking to implement private sector management practices. It also highlights the issues that are facing the APS with regard to attracting and retaining a suitably skilled workforce in an environment of increased pressure to cut costs and reduce its size.
Australian Workplace Relations explains the defining themes in workplace relations in the twenty-first century. It explores issues relating to employee voice, declining trade union membership, occupational health, disadvantaged workers and surveillance in the workplace. The treatment of each topic is placed in both a national and an international context. The book examines the effects on Australian workplace relations of globalisation, the changing international economy and the Global Financial Crisis. It provides a comprehensive examination of the Fair Work Act 2009. Case studies provide in-depth explorations of four important sectors of the economy: health, retail and hospitality, the public sector and motor vehicle components. The textbook includes additional resources for students and lecturers on a companion website: Power-Point slides, lists for further reading, additional case studies and links to websites. Comprehensive and fully cross-referenced, Australian Workplace Relations is an invaluable resource for upper-level undergraduate students of workplace, employee or industrial relations.