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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 6.62 shows 439,400 working days were lost in 2003, a rise of 70% from 2002. Over the same period the total number of employees involved in industrial disputes rose by 73% to 275,600. This was the first increase in both the number of working days lost and the number of employees involved since 1999. In contrast, the 643 disputes that occurred in 2003 represented a decrease of 16% over the number recorded in 2002 (767). Correspondingly, the average number of working days lost per dispute almost doubled, from 338 in 2002 to 683 in 2003.
Table 6.63 shows the number of working days lost per thousand employees increased from 33 in 2002 to 54 in 2003. This was the first increase in the number of working days lost per thousand employees since 1999.
Of the industries shown, coal mining had the highest number in each year between 1998 and 2003, although the 375 working days lost per thousand employees in 2003 was considerably less than the number in 1998 (3,018). The construction industry had the second highest number of working days lost per thousand employees in each year between 1998 and 2002, while the other mining industry had the second highest number of working days lost per thousand employees in 2003. Other mining recorded a large increase between 2002 and 2003, from 20 to 330 working days lost per thousand employees. The metal products, machinery industry and equipment manufacturing industry (up from 92 to 215) and the combined education, and health and community services industry (up from 3 to 76) also recorded large increases between 2002 and 2003.
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 2003 there were 1,866,700 employees who were trade union members in their main job. As shown in table 6.64, this represents 23% of all employees. The public sector has a higher rate of unionisation, with 47% of employees having trade union membership, compared with 18% in the private sector. A slightly higher proportion of males than females are trade union members (24% compared with 22%).
Trade union membership in Australia experienced growth throughout much of the 20th century, peaking at 61% in 1962 (graph 6.65). 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 6.66 shows the proportion of part-time employees has increased from 20% in August 1988 to 29% in August 2003. 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 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 the electricity, gas and water supply (54%), education (42%), and government administration and defence (38%) industries being the most unionised in 2003 (graph 6.67). The least unionised industries were agriculture, forestry and fishing (5%), property and business services (7%), and wholesale trade (9%).
Between 1998 and 2003 most industries experienced a drop in their rate of unionisation. The largest declines occurred in the more unionised industries, with the proportion of employees who were trade union members falling in the communication services industry (from 54% to 31%), finance and insurance (from 30% to 19%) and manufacturing (from 35% to 26%). The construction, and personal and other services industries were the only industries to experience an increase in the proportion of trade union members.
While the fall in the proportion of trade union members in the communication services industry was greater than in manufacturing, the fall in manufacturing had a more significant impact on the overall number of trade union members, as the manufacturing industry has a much higher level of employment.