Industrial Relations in Australia

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Australian union membership numbers are termed union density. Union density has been seen as in crisis for the past three years (Peetz, 1990). It peaked in 1959 (58%) and was a reported 23% in 2004. In 1996 the Workplace Relations Act (WRA) was introduced and has since made it much more difficult for unions to recruit, due to closed shop workplaces being made illegal and the Australian Workplace Agreements (AWA) being made more popular.


The growth of unions is recognised as being a cyclical process that is also structural and institutional (Griffin & Svenson, 1996). Economic factors affect union density due to the affect on demand for labor. Demographic variables, such as female participation in the workforce, the rise of minority group participation, increased education access and outcomes, population shifts into cities, affect the composition of industries. Theses factors also affect the increase in part-time and casual positions as opposed to the traditional full-time opportunities. There has also been rapid growth in the sectors of industry which are not traditionally have unionism as a focus, for example retail and services, parallel to this there has been a dramatic decrease in the traditional union affiliated industries, such as manufacturing. All these factors combine to affect the structural nature of union density. Finally, laws, their enforcement or lack of (due to low penalties for example) and the type of government in power all affect the institutional nature of union density.
The demand-side model expresses the situation of decreasing union density in economic terms (Wooden, 1999). ...
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