Legal Employment Relationship in Modern Australia

Government plays a very crucial role in employment relations by formulating the legal framework upon which employment relations operate. An appropriate employment relation legislation entails recognition of both employers and employees’ requirements. Both the employer and the employee gain and rely on each other. This simply attributes to equal bargaining power for both employers and employees (Peetz 2006).

Therefore, employment relations laws should serve to oversee any existing imbalance and ensure equality between both parties. Apart from ensuring collective and individual bargain, employment relations should also facilitate employee involvement in daily workplace decisions. The government overlooks the structure and framework of the employment relationship to develop better employment relations (Kaufman 2004).

Employment relation is a major concern in Australia based on how it is employed to organize and manage workforce. There exist differing opinions regarding employment relations between the current government and the opposition. This is a situation which appeared when the previous governments were in power. The past government set the laws to form tribunals tasked with the mandate of determining the pay, amongst other core conditions related to employment such as settling disputes. However, the major issues of concern are pertained to third parties/unions involvement, individual and collective reference frames and bargaining.

This led to the creation of the employment relation environment to control the entire industrial sector. This model of employment relations was one-sided and mostly ignored individual needs of both employers and employees. Recently, the laws have changed to enhance flexibility between employers and their relations with employees (Balnave 2009).

According to Accel-Team (2012), appropriate employment relations legislation should aim at protecting both parties in matters relating to wages (minimum wage), health and hygiene standards, employment and safety conditions and anti-discriminatory policies. In addition, the laws prevent power abuse by either party (Accel-Team 2007). This portfolio will examine the reasons why the government ought not to be involved in employment relations in the modern Australian workplace.

The most important aspect of government involvement in employee relations is the implementation of legislation allowing sacking of employees. The recent government decision to amend the laws to allow sacking of employees by their employers is a big misfortune to employment relations (Barry 2011). This contributes to employees’ perception about their job security. This legislation put at risk employees in smaller firms having less than 100 employees.

Relative to job security, employees have no rights and are prone to sacking any moment without compensation (Mitchell 2005). The majority of industrialists consider this law unreasonable, harsh and unjust treatment. Additionally, these laws empower employers to act in unjustified manner either in treating or dismissing the employees. Most notably, this law does not promote good employment relationship between employers and employees, thus there appears a bad influence on employment relations.

In fact, it results into increased distrust and conflicts. Although, the employers should have the mandate to sack unproductive employees, appropriate procedures and measures should be followed, which is not the case. For instance, an employee from Windsor RSL Club in Australia was sacked after serving for 25 years with the claims of unproductivity. This is attributed to laws that have enabled employer’s freedom to hire and fire employees (Muir 2008).

The next negative Government influence on employment relations is the abolishment of the already passed federal laws, Work Choices (2005) and Fair Work Act (2009). Abolishment of the Work Choices law ensured that employers were not free to determine unilaterally the employment arrangements hence reach into an individual agreement with their workers. The abolition of Fair Work Act created an industrial atmosphere that does not acknowledge the importance of trade unions.

This robs employees’ avenues to present and negotiate their grievances. Collectively, employees have the power to influence the formulation of rules and regulation governing the workplace by starving employers of the workforce to surplus value. This clearly signifies their importance to employees as they provide power in negotiating the remuneration and working conditions. Otherwise, it renders employers to be powerful unitarists where they subject employees to the set goals and expected outcomes without consideration of their opinion. This move by the federal government is viewed as anti union as it restricts union involvement in employment relations.

These laws have primarily affected the private sector though the public sectors have not been spared either. Arrangements pertaining to employment relations are left on total control of the employers. Apart from empowering the employers only, the government over the years has formulated laws favoring the employees. This has enabled employees to develop their working schedules like part time and remote working based on their commitments (Gollan 2009).

Another influence by the government on employment relations is the introduction of employee’s performance/individual contracts. The use of performance contracts enables employers to either reward or layoff their employees based on their performance. Additionally, they remove the unwanted influence from third parties, trade unions. Therefore, adoption of individual contracts is viewed as good employment relations to the employers.

However, this policy has resulted into bad employment relations since it resulted into power imbalance between employers and employees. Employers are the sole beneficiaries as they are empowered to negotiate issues based on their sidelines like reduced labor costs. Mostly, it has been used by employers as a tool to eliminate employees who oppose the management regardless of their performance. Performance contracts deprive employees of their individual as well as collective bargaining power. Conversely, it exerts full control to employers over employees in determining their working conditions, payment and other issues as well.

Moreover, performance contracts have traded off many working conditions favoring employees such as annual or sickness leave, and overtime rate. Employees are left with poor payments with no compensations. In the long run, use of performance contacts leads to unproductive and underpaid labor force. The move by Howard government forcing employees to sign performance contracts, therefore, affected the employment relations negatively (Barry 2011).

Most of the Australian labor force, in the various occupations, is absorbed by the public sector either state’s or federal’s. For this reason, public sectors have ultimate control over many practices and employment relations at large. Often, the government formulates employment relations legislation without considering the private sectors. This is done with the assumption that private sectors will agree with the policies. This strategy has been employed by the government for several years. The strategy is evident in the workforce reforms implemented by the government, for example, the Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs).

The Federal Government reforms are purposed to provide flexible streamline platforms where both employees and employers would negotiate the employment contract. However, this is accomplished by diminishing appeal rights and regulations pertaining to working conditions and payment. The government opted for a decentralized way to regulate working conditions and wages. Government control the wages and working conditions which have triggered tension between employers and their respective employees (Barry 2011).

Furthermore, the government has diminished the partnership programs like employment democracy and employee participation with the view that they do not align with the new approaches of management and marketing. Good employment relations should encourage employee participation since it leads to improved employee performance and productivity. However, a pluralist management approach works well for the employers.

This approach of management encourages equal power distribution in the workforce. In addition, the role of unions is recognized leading to improved communication and flexibility between employers and employees. As far as employee participation is concerned, it encourages employees’ participation in the workforce, particularly women and other interest groups. The enacted Equal Employment Opportunity laws are aimed at ensuring a balance in the workforce between men and women in terms of representation, pay and working conditions. This law, however, never changed the imbalance between men and women in the employment relations.

Moreover, the decision by the government to downgrade these programs widened this gap. Currently, women are underrepresented in managerial positions in the majority of Australia’s top companies. Therefore, employment relation is crucial in ensuring that there are employment regulations and legal framework that allow equal opportunities to develop one’s career, better pay and flexible job arrangement for all gender. Nevertheless, this could only be possible with proper legislation (Michelson 2008).

Besides, government involvement in employment relations has been beneficial in some ways. Introduction of legislation such as individual contracts and AWAs have promoted flexibility in workplaces, especially in the mining industry. These laws have enhanced innovation, performance accountability, high and sustained productivity, and outstanding returns, which triggered high wages. Although there was a shortage in workers, policies ensured high wages and provided a legal platform for negotiations on the issues affecting the workplaces. In some industries, this resulted into increased productivity and employees’ loyalty.

This was attributed to the elimination of industrial actions by unions that were regarded as significant hindrances to company development and growth. For instance, Rio Tinto mining company lured employees to embrace individual contracts by offering higher rewards. As a result, the company enjoyed more flexibility in controlling its workforce. On the other hand, employees gained good wages and improved working conditions, which enhanced the company’s productivity. In the mining sector, it is clear that some government influence can have positive impacts on employment relations (Deng and Wang 2009).

However, in considering individual contracts and collective bargaining, the power paradigm in the employment relations between the employer and employee becomes evident. Bargaining power is simply termed as the capacity of an individual or group to achieve what they need. For instance, the petitions of the employees are heard if they have the bargaining power. With regard to employment relations, the frontier of power control must be well defined.

The frontier of power control is as a result of customs and practices which can be influenced by new laws or strategies. Therefore, legislation has a significant influence on the management prerogative. Employment relations laws empower employers and employees to act in a certain direction. In some cases, this will create employer-employee conflicts. Conflicts in the workplace are inevitable, and modern Australian workforce is not an exception.

Despite these conflicts, the employer and employee rely on one another; the employers need the employees and the employees need the jobs. Therefore, both parties are forced to resolve these conflicts amicably since they both enjoy the benefits (Van Gramberg 2005). As further described by Van Gramberg, involvement of a third party, especially the government, worsens the situation. This is attributed to the fact that government sometimes formulates the employment relations laws which are one sided. As mentioned in this context, most of the government legislation in the modern Australian workforce favors employers (Van Gramberg 2005).

The government involvement in employment relations has not yielded sufficient changes in the managerial regime and systems of power control. More specifically, its policies and strategies have ignored the vulnerable player in the labor market, the employees. In addition, it has failed to facilitate cooperation amongst the employers, employees and trade unions in order to enhance performance of the national economy through the provision of distributions equally and fairly.

This highly supports the proposition for the need to abolish states influence on employment relations. The employers and employees can formulate good employment relations policies. Therefore, direct employment relations without interference of a third party particularly the government, should be adopted. Both employers and employees need to work together to address the issues affecting their workplaces and develop well balanced employment relations in the dynamic and globalized economic environment (Teicher et al. 2006). In conclusion, the government needs not to be involved in employment relations.

List of References

Accel Team 2007, Human Resource Management. Web.

Balnave, N 2009, Employment relations in Australia, John Wiley & Sons, Australia.

Barry, M 2011, Research handbook in comparative employment relations, Elgar, Cheltenham.

Deng, J & Wang, K Y 2009, ‘Feeling Trusted and Loyalty: Modelling Supervisor-Subordinate Interaction from a Trustee Perspective’, International Employment Relations Review, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 16-38.

Gollan, P J 2009, ‘Australian Industrial Relations Reform in Perspective: Beyond Work Choices and Future Prosepcts Under the Fair Work Act 2009’, Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, vol. 47, no. 3, pp. 260-269.

Kaufman, B 2004, Theoretical perspectives on work and the employment relationship, ILR, Ithaca, NY.

Michelson, G 2008, New employment actors: developments from Australia, Lang, Bern.

Mitchell, C D 2005 “Your rights: what employers do not want you to know”: for employees only, Carol Mitchell Books, Concord, CA.

Muir, K 2008, Worth fighting for inside the Your Rights at Work campaign, UNSW Press, Sydney, NSW.

Peetz, D 2006, Brave new workplace: how individual contracts are changing our jobs, Allen & Unwin. Crows Nest, NSW.

Teicher, J Holland, P and Gough, R 2006, Employee relations management : Australia in a global context, 2nd ed, Pearson Education Australia, Queensland, Australia.

Van Gramberg, B 2005, Managing workplace conflict: alternative dispute resolution in Australia, Federation Press, Annandale, N.S. W.

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