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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2003  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/01/2003   
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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, with any changes to the structure or processes underpinning the industrial relations environment generally following social change and adjustment in the Australian economy. For most of the last century, highly centralised Commonwealth and state tribunal-based systems of conciliation and arbitration shaped employee-employer relationships. 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 is not easily measured for statistical purposes. The ABS collects information on a number of topics to provide an insight into the state of the industrial relations environment, including trade union membership and industrial disputes.


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 establishments where the stoppage occurred. Working days lost refers to working days lost by workers directly or indirectly involved in disputes at those establishments. Directly involved employees are those who actually participated in the dispute, while indirectly involved employees are those who were stood down at the establishment 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 6.57). While there has been a downward trend in the levels of industrial disputation, certain years have gone against the trend, namely 1988, 1991 and 1996.

Graph - 6.57 Industrial disputes



The number of working days lost in 2001 was 393,100, a fall of over 16% on 2000 (table 6.58). Over the same period the total number of employees involved in industrial disputes (either directly or indirectly) fell by over 30% to 225,700. While the numbers of working days lost have been declining over the last six years, the number of disputes has actually been increasing. This indicates that the relative size of disputes, in terms of the length of the dispute or the numbers involved, is decreasing. For example, in 1996 there was an average of 1,710 working days lost per dispute, while in 2001 there was an average of 582 working days lost per dispute.


6.58 INDUSTRIAL DISPUTES

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

1996
543
577.7
928.5
1997
447
315.4
534.2
1998
519
348.4
526.3
1999
731
461.1
650.5
2000
698
325.4
469.1
2001
675
225.7
393.1

Source: Industrial Disputes, Australia (6321.0).


Table 6.59 shows that the number of working days lost per thousand employees has declined over the last five years, although there have been fluctuations in a number of industries. Since 1996 the number of working days lost per thousand employees has fallen from 131 to 50. However, Manufacturing has gone against this trend, increasing from 216 to 406 working days lost per thousand employees.

Coal mining continues to be the industry most affected by industrial disputation, with a total of 956 working days lost per thousand employees; however, this is considerably lower than the 7,171 working days lost per thousand employees recorded in 1996. The Construction industry, and the Education; Health and community services industry have fluctuated from year to year, although they have been generally falling. Construction fell from 892 to 275 working days lost per thousand employees between 1996 and 2001.


6.59 WORKING DAYS LOST PER THOUSAND EMPLOYEES(a)

1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
Industry
’000
’000
’000
’000
’000
’000

Mining
Coal
7,171
4,206
2,732
1,445
1,933
956
Other
73
19
23
35
60
33
Manufacturing
Metal products; Machinery and equipment
146
189
71
282
170
258
Other
70
107
106
120
121
148
Construction
892
290
524
381
234
275
Transport and storage; Communication services
43
101
114
42
52
27
Education; Health and community services
187
73
57
165
79
8
Other industries(b)
17
11
7
7
9
7
All industries
131
75
72
87
61
50

(a) Classified according to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC).
(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, of which the principal activities include the negotiation of rates of pay and conditions of employment for its members. In August 2001 there were 1,902,700 employees who were trade union members in their main job. As shown in table 6.60, this represents 24.5% of all employees, down from 24.7% in August 2000. The public sector has a higher rate of unionisation, with 47.9% of employees having trade union membership, compared to 19.2% in the private sector. A higher proportion of males than females are trade union members (26.0% to 22.7%).


6.60 TRADE UNION MEMBERSHIP - August 2001

Males
Females
Persons
Sector
%
%
%

Public
51.9
44.5
47.9
Private
21.2
16.6
19.2
All sectors
26.0
22.7
24.5

Source: Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2001 (6310.0).


Trade union membership in Australia experienced growth throughout much of the 20th century, peaking at 61% in 1962 (graph 6.61). 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 - 6.61 Trade union membership



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 6.62 shows that the proportion of part-time employees has increased from 20% in 1988 to 28% in 2001. 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 46% to 27%, and trade union membership of part-time employees declining from 25% to 18%.

Graph - 6.62 Trade union membership, Full-time and part-time employees



The level of trade union membership varies considerably across industries, with Electricity, gas and water supply (48%), Education (44%) and Government administration and defence (41%) being the most unionised (graph 6.63). The least unionised industries were Agriculture, forestry and fishing (6%), Property and business services (8%) and Wholesale trade (9%).

Between 1996 and 2001, 16 of the 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 62% to 39%, Electricity, gas and water supply from 65% to 48%, Finance and insurance from 34% to 22%, and Transport and storage from 48% to 39%. Over this period, the rate of union membership increased marginally in Personal and other services, from 29% to 30%.

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 - 6.63 Employees who were trade union members, By industry(a)



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