Australian Bureau of Statistics

Rate the ABS website
ABS Home > Statistics > By Release Date
1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2004  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/02/2004   
   Page tools: Print Print Page RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product  
Contents >> Labour >> Industrial relations

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).

Historically, governments have regulated the Australian labour market to varying degrees. Changes to the structure or processes underpinning the industrial relations environment have generally followed changes in governments, and periods of social or economic change. For most of the last century, employee-employer relationships were shaped by highly centralised Commonwealth and state tribunal-based systems of conciliation and arbitration. However, since the late-1980s, the industrial relations environment in Australia has undergone significant change, and is now characterised by more decentralised arrangements.

The field of industrial relations is complex and diverse and, for statistical purposes, is not easily measured. The ABS collects information on a number of topics to provide an insight into the state of the industrial relations environment, including industrial disputes, trade union membership, and the methods used for setting pay (i.e. collective agreements, individual agreements and awards) (see How pay is set earlier in Labour).

Industrial disputes

An industrial dispute is a state of disagreement over a particular issue or group of issues between employees and employers. Industrial disputes comprise strikes, which are a withdrawal from work by a group of employees; and lockouts, which are a refusal by an employer or group of employers to permit some or all of their employees to work.

This section presents statistics on industrial disputes involving the loss of 10 working days or more at the locations where the stoppages occurred. Working days lost refers to working days lost by workers directly or indirectly involved in disputes at those locations. Directly involved employees are those who actually participated in the dispute, while indirectly involved employees are those who ceased work at the location where the stoppages occurred, but who were not themselves parties to the dispute.

The number of working days lost per year, and the number of employees involved, have fluctuated from year to year, but have demonstrated a significant downward trend over the last two decades (graph 6.58).

Graph - 6.58 Industrial disputes


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.

6.59 INDUSTRIAL DISPUTES

Disputes
Employees involved
Working days lost
Working days lost per dispute
no.
’000
’000
no.

1997
447
315.4
534.2
1,195
1998
519
348.4
526.3
1,014
1999
731
461.1
650.5
890
2000
698
325.4
469.1
672
2001
675
225.7
393.1
582
2002
766
159.7
259.0
338

Source: Industrial Disputes, Australia (6321.0).

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.

6.60 WORKING DAYS LOST PER THOUSAND EMPLOYEES(a)

1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
Industry
’000
’000
’000
’000
’000
'000

Mining
Coal
4,206
2,732
1,445
1,933
956
357
Other
19
23
35
60
33
20
Manufacturing
Metal products; Machinery and equipment
189
71
282
170
258
88
Other
107
106
120
121
148
83
Construction
290
524
381
234
275
220
Transport and storage; Communication services
101
114
42
52
27
37
Education; Health and community services
73
57
165
79
8
3
Other industries(b)
11
7
7
9
7
9
All industries
75
72
87
61
50
32

(a) Classified according to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification.
(b) Includes: Agriculture, forestry and fishing; Electricity, gas and water supply; Wholesale trade; Retail trade; Accommodation, cafes and restaurants; Finance and insurance; Property and business services; Government administration and defence; Cultural and recreational services; and Personal and other services.
Source: Industrial Disputes, Australia (6321.0).

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%).

6.61 TRADE UNION MEMBERSHIP - August 2002

Males
Females
Persons
Sector
%
%
%

Public
52.2
41.9
46.5
Private
19.4
15.5
17.7
All sectors
24.5
21.5
23.1

Source: Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2002 (6310.0).

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.

Graph - 6.62 Trade union membership, Proportion of employees


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%.

Graph - 6.63 Employees who were trade union members, Full-time and part-time employees


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.

Graph - 6.64 Employees who were trade union members, By industry


Previous PageNext Page

Bookmark and Share. Opens in a new window


Commonwealth of Australia 2014

Unless otherwise noted, content on this website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia Licence together with any terms, conditions and exclusions as set out in the website Copyright notice. For permission to do anything beyond the scope of this licence and copyright terms contact us.