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Industrial relations can be regarded as the relationships and interactions in the labour market between employers and employees (and their representatives), and the intervention in these relations by governments, government agencies and tribunals (e.g. the Australian Industrial Relations Commission).
Table 6.59 shows that 259,000 working days were lost in 2002, a fall of 34% from 2001. Over the same period the total number of employees involved in industrial disputes fell by 29% to 159,700. While the numbers of working days lost have generally been declining over the last six years, the number of disputes has been increasing. This indicates that the relative size of disputes, in terms of the length of the dispute or the number of employees involved, is decreasing. For example, in 1997 the average number of working days lost per dispute was 1,195, compared to 338 in 2002.
Table 6.60 shows that the number of working days lost per thousand employees has generally decreased over the last five years, falling from 75 in 1997 to 32 in 2002. Of the industries shown, Coal mining had the highest number in each year between 1997 and 2002, although the 357 working days lost per thousand employees in 2002 was considerably less than the number in 1997 (4,206). The Construction industry had the second highest number of working days lost per thousand employees in each of these years.
Trade union membership
A trade union is defined as an organisation, consisting predominantly of employees, whose principal activities include the negotiation of rates of pay and conditions of employment for its members. In August 2002 there were 1,833,700 employees who were trade union members in their main job. As shown in table 6.61, this represents 23.1% of all employees, down from 24.5% in August 2001. The public sector has a higher rate of unionisation, with 46.5% of employees having trade union membership, compared to 17.7% in the private sector. A higher proportion of males than females are trade union members (24.5% to 21.5%).
Trade union membership in Australia experienced growth throughout much of the 20th century, peaking at 61% in 1962 (graph 6.62). Between 1962 and 1970 trade union membership declined rapidly. This was followed by increasing membership during the 1970s. However, since then the proportion of employees who were trade union members has steadily declined.
Some of the factors contributing to the decline in trade union membership include the changing workplace relations environment and the changing industry composition of the labour market, for example, declines in employment levels in traditionally highly unionised industries and the emergence of industries that are not highly unionised.
Another factor in the decline in trade union membership is the increases in part-time and casual employment which historically have been less unionised than full-time employment. Graph 6.63 shows that the proportion of part-time employees has increased from 21% in 1989 to 29% in 2002. Over this same period the proportion of full-time and part-time employees who were trade union members has decreased, with trade union membership of full-time employees declining from 45% to 26%, and trade union membership of part-time employees declining from 25% to 17%.
The level of trade union membership varies considerably across industries, with Electricity, gas and water supply (48%), Education (42%) and Government administration and defence (38%) being the most unionised in 2002 (graph 6.64). The least unionised industries were Agriculture, forestry and fishing (5%), Property and business services (7%) and Wholesale trade (7%).
Between 1997 and 2002, all 17 industries experienced a drop in their rate of unionisation. The largest falls occurred in the more unionised industries, with the proportion of employees who were trade union members in Communication services falling from 60% to 33%, Electricity, gas and water supply from 66% to 48%, Finance and insurance from 36% to 18%, and Mining from 44% to 29%.
While the fall in the proportion of trade union members in Communication services was greater than in Manufacturing, the fall in Manufacturing had a more significant impact on the overall number of trade union members, as Manufacturing has a much higher level of employment.