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In this assessment, you will be critically analysing the role of the major union that was involved in the NSW train workers’ dispute in early 2018.

Prepare a report that addresses the following points.

(i) Critically analyse the role played by the Rail, Tram and Bus union. From a tactical perspective, what do you believe they did well and what could they have done better. Justify your perspective, with reference to relevant theory and scholarly research literature on the role of unions and union behaviour.

(ii) What are the implications of the union’s role in this dispute for the continuing relevance of unions in contemporary Australian society?

The Role of Labor Unions in Balancing Employer-Employee Relations

Why do we need employee unions as its first place? The answer to this question may force you to turn the pages of socialist literature where they have mentioned about an economy working on a harmony between job seekers and job givers. These books say that agencies like labor unions act as the force of balancing between employer and employees. Most of the countries promote the concept of labor laws very predominantly. However, they don't deny or discourage the concept of a labor union because in a way labor unions act as an arbitrator between the employees and owners. This eases down the pressures on the courts and it is a win situation for all (Burgmann, 2017).

The thought process of communism failed in many countries because it was against the interests of a businessman or the person who is investing money on the merit of risk and gain. However, the failure of communism never prompted the idea of the removal of the labor unions from the list of the stakeholders. However, with a passage of time, their role became a bit mild in the process. At the turn of this year, railroad employees in Sydney and adjacent areas threatened to go for a strike (Clennell, 2018). It was a joint decision of many small and big labor union working under the flagship of RTBU (Rail, Tram and Bus Union). This call for a strike created a roar in the media because trains can be considered as the heart line of the said are. The methods and the negotiations that took place during the course of the events s once again brought us on the brink of the same question that changed the nature of sovereign and forced the formation of USSR in the year 1917 after a grand armed revolution (Swain, 2017).

Both capitalism and communism have an equal arrangement for the welfare of the employees. The theories of the communism say that a labor has equal rights to the profits that an endeavor is making, they also have a right to quality life and security. They have a right to move into a society like a setup where they can feel free and enjoy their life after work. Wages is another issue, the wages should be in tandem with the economy, and they should ensure a minimum guarantee of the fulfillment of the necessities for the lower strata or the weaker section of the society. In the similar fashion, they should also have an encouragement for the talent pools so that they don't migrate from the society and search for some pastures where they can earn in accordance with their capacity (Lichtenstein, 2013). This formula seems simple in the case of the state of the utopia. However, in today's competitive world utopia is a distant dream.  The current establishments and business arrangements also follow the same spirits, however, in a capitalistic outfit they provide perks to their employees, they offer securities and guarantees to the employees. The regulations connected to the human conditions are very strict in all the industry sectors. They share profits with the employees in the form of bonuses. The government sector is also promoting the culture of the corporate social responsibility and giving tax rebates to the CSR Pro activities. If we have a parallel arrangement ready then why we need a labor union is a big question. The recent development in the Sydney strike case raised some questions connected to the roles of the labor unions in the current setup of the industries and businesses (Lutz Preuss, 2014).  

The Evolution of Labor Unions from Communist Thought to Labor Laws

Now when both the systems have provisions for the employee benefits and governments across the world are giving economic benefits to the companies if they are sharing the goods with the employees then why we need employee unions is a big question. The turnaround of the events in the case of Sydney rail strike certainly has some answers ready for us (Hawke, 2018).  

The cost of the operations are increasing with each passing day and people are not ready to pay that much. There are huge gaps in the inflow of the traffic (Gabriella C. Gonzalez, 2009). This is why most of the producers are planning to replace humans with the machines in the coming future. While writing an analysis about the role of a trade union during a strike, it is very important to understand this fact belonging to the industries of the future where machines are ready to replace human beings (Sullivan, 2018). In the current study, we will try to check the stand of RTBU under the light of various principles as they are designed for various trade unions (Probert, 2018). During the course of this compilation of the facts, opinions, reviews, and views we will also try to explore the changing roles of labor unions in the future economies where the threat of smart machines and robots is underlying and it is all set to change the rules of the game drastically.

The economies of the developed countries failed to grab a lion's share in the previous industrial revolutions because they were heavily dependent on the supply of the manpower. After a deep slumber of more than five decades, the economy of Japan and the USA rising up, this time they are coming up with some business models where Robots will replace human largely. Robots certainly don't need robot labor unions. The current theories they have already given it the name of Labor 4.0 (Gupta, 2018).

In the past, most of the labor unions were surviving on the principle of collective bargaining. The forces behind the industry have come up with two solutions, first, they abolished the job contracts and started a free-lance culture and second they started hiring people for short tenures where authorities cannot establish an employee and employer relationship between the two parties. Many experts believe that the doom’s day is nearing for the culture of the labor unions. The supply for the labor is on the higher side and the principle of the collective bargain is not applicable because the labor industry is becoming fragmented. In the era of labor 4.0, the importance of the labor industry will decrease and it will happen because instead of the collective bargain, the employee utility driven bargain will acquire the forefront.

After the intervention of the authorities, they called off the strike; the issues raised by the union are still unresolved. On a face value, we can always say that this strike was a massive failure on all levels. Labor unions joined hands under one flagship expedition; however, they failed in capitalizing on the strength of the forum. The failure of this strike also indicates towards a demise of the culture of the collective bargaining power. Labor unions came into existence because technical hands were in demand and they were in a position to bring in an abrupt halt on the proceedings. Now machines are able to facilitate a newbie under the capacity of an end user. This major trend shift in the market of the skills can be the decisive factor for the future of the trade unions. The implications of the current strikes are only an indication for the future fate of the labor unions.

The Sydney Rail Strike and Labor Unions' Changing Role in Industries

In the year 2007, a fair work act came into action. The primary recommendations of this fair work act were dedicated towards the welfare of both the parties. The labors and employers were covered with equal rights to come up with their woes and concerns. The spirit of this act was intended towards a framework where both the parties can meet with each other after regular intervals and solve the disputes under a legal framework without disturbing the harmony of the business setups (McNally, 2018).

Under the current developments in the case of the strike called by the unions, when the authorities refused to entertain the strike and threaten for some consequences and came up with the regulations of fair work act, many union members raised their eyebrows and said that it is an erosion of the right to strike? Let's think about it from a different perspective. Every system has its own corridors of communications where an employee can put forward his concerns (Powles, 2018).  The same system also has certain forums where we have a provision of some forums where concerned parties can come together and have a healthy discussion.

The recommendations of the fair play act serve the fact that under no circumstances any party can blackmail the other party. Motormen and other staff members of rail fraternity are always in a need of employment. With a natural increase in the population and availability of the technical hands, the jobs connected to the automobile industry and motoring industry are on a decline, the supply is huge and the demand is less. However, it never means that companies can put their employees on a ransom and deprive them of a probable raise or create inhumane conditions at the workplace to make them resign (Powels, 2018).

At the same time, labor unions should also act responsibly, they should feel the dignity and the responsibility of their posts. The recommendation of the fair work act creates many junctures where labor associations and authorities can sit across the table and negotiate their interests.

The stance of RTBU in the current strike was very judicious and prudent if we check it on paper. They never talked about safety hazards; they never raised an issue connected to the working hours. Any such claim can become redundant. A railroad and a system surrounding it is a machine driven assembly line (Schmidtke, 2013). Most of the rail engine companies decide the working hours and ergonomics connected to the humans working with the engines. It is the same with the traffic control units and other equipment. The maintenance and the monitoring of the railroads is another area where the culture of strong checklists prevails and human performance is a very strict criterion in these checklists. Safety surveys conducted by the Rail authorities also advocates certain relaxation for the employees. RTBU never challenged this technically certified evidence-based practices. Their woes were connected to external matters. For instance, they were seeking to change the culture of reporting (Berg, 2015). They were looking for soft postings for the employees where employees can stay closer to their native houses.

The Battle Between Capitalism and Communism for Employee Welfare

The trade union acts of various countries identify trade unions as the representative of various employees working in the eco-system of a business.  A business organization can strike two types of business relationships with a human being. They can hire them as the vendor or they can hire them as an employee. In the case of a vendor ship, both the vendor and the business are liable for justified taxation (Mamorsky, 2018). However, in the case of an employee and employer relationship tax rebates are in place for both the parties. When we check the case of Sydney rail strike under the recommendations of the fair work act then we find that the stance of banning the strike was right in many ways. Particularly in the case of Australia, this fair work act defines the role of a trade union as the mediator or the party representing the case of an individual in front of the authorities. It entertains the pleas of a union under a progressive mindset. A progressive mindset is a mindset where we wish to change a few things in the system while staying in the system and abiding by it largely.

The role of the trade unions can be described under the same guidelines. Stay in the system, abide by the system largely and force the system to listen to your woes. The ban on the strike in the Sydney was justified because it was challenging the sanctity of the system.

Under the fair work act, a strike is justified on five occasions, these five occasions denote five stages of the negotiations. During this period the fair work act allows the employees to abandon the work and go or a protest. However, the protest should be done under the legal framework and it should not disrupt the operations or the public life (Clennell, 2018). These five states are designed in a fashion where the parties, the employee and the employer have equal opportunity to negotiate and change the drafts of the demands and their resolutions, in accordance with the negotiation. When we check the lingo of the literature connected to the trade unions then we find that these stages are the stages of a collective bargain (Mamorsky, 2018). Trade unions and labor unions have all the rights to bargain during these five steps and later on, they can move ahead to different forums like courts or the industry regulators. Many countries also have the provision to fix an arbitrator prior to the constitution of a labor union.

The recommendations of the fair work committee say that any ordinary job should not be treated as an ordinary job; it has its own share of responsibility factors attached to it. Any employer should never forget it. In the same vein on many occasions, various apex bodies of the law also repeated the same sentiments in their verdicts given under various judgments where labor unions demanded a right to strike (Lutz Preuss, 2014). The quantification of the responsibility cannot be changed under any given circumstances if it is unlawful for an employer to disrespect the utility and responsibility of an employee. In the same fashion, an employee cannot disrespect the sanctity of his own post. The fair work committee recommends a structure where a union can demand the best and optimized deals. They can also practice their power to bargain for their rights and privileges. The reason behind the power of bargaining can be compared with the power of an employer to bargain for the salaries when they have multiple options. Under the existing legal frameworks and the definitions set by the apex bodies looking into the matter a ban on the strike was on the cards and nobody was surprised with that either. The valuation of the dignity of the job and the responsibilities attached to it is also a big factor (McNally, 2018). The role of the trade unions was unjustified in the case of Sydney strikes because they were running away from the responsibilities of their jobs. They were trying to use the dignity and the value associated with their job as the tool for blackmail the system. It was a radical move, be it communism or be it capitalism, both the systems have no place for radical thoughts and acts under a business settlement that deals with the larger public interest.

Why Employee Unions Are Necessary in the Face of Labor 4.0

The proposal of a giant strike like Sydney railroad strike actually raises many questions related to the dependence of the people on any given system. In the terms of the language of labor, union terminology strikes like these are also known as an attempt to win a collective bargain. It was estimated that this strike could have incurred the losses worth billions of dollars. In the same vein, many trade associations also expressed their concerns connected to the loss of public wealth because of the absence of the biggest means of the transportation which is available in the city (Lichtenstein, 2013).

The media hype connected to the proposed strike made it even bigger. Rail officials and the representative of the union had long negotiations on public spaces and inside the closed cabins. Rail authorities presented many offers on the pretext of a bailout package. However, on most of the occasions, they fail to draw consent of sorts with the authorities. In fact, many union bodies said that these packages can promote a culture of more job cuts and siege the rights of the unions for further protesting on the issues. In order to correct the fractured mandate on various issues, the associations decided to conduct a ballot among them (Clennell, 2018).

This turnaround of the events takes us back to the golden era of labor unions when most of the industries were moving on the wheels of giant units. It was also the time when as a stakeholder, labor unions were playing a bigger role; the rules connected to the strikes were lenient. A labor union follows the model of democracy, here they club together with an intention to prevent a wrong happening that is taking place. It is a community-driven operation where an individual acts as a community and community acts as an individual person (Sullivan, 2018). They try to create a singular voice for the masses. Going for a balloting exercise is a great way to fix the single voice of the masses. This ballot exercise hits two birds with a single stone, first, it caters to the resentments of an individual if he is feeling that he is not a part of the decision making process. The same ballot also fixes a mandate for the group. A ballot among the union members is a good idea.

While having a look at the demands made by RTBU in the favor of the rail employees, we find that most of their demands are simple and they can be executed. Some of their demands are related to a change in the reporting structure. In another demand, they want postings near their hometowns. It is justified in many ways; a rail employee spends most of his time traveling or working at far off places. Most of the jobs are transferable in nature. Railroads demand strong consistency in the services, this consistency holds the key to their profit. A person traveling in rail plans his journey in accordance with the timings of the train (McNally, 2018). A train service can never be stopped for the reasons that it does not have enough passengers to carry. The demands can be accommodated however the methods to put forward the demands cannot be accommodated. Stay in the system, be a part of the system.

The Demise of Collective Bargaining and the Rise of Employee Utility Bargaining

In the recent strike, the proposal moved by the authorities of The Rail Tram and Bus union met with criticism because of its liberal outlooks towards the owners of the business. Many experts and members of the union believe that it was a golden shake hand that took place between the two authorities. One of them was acting as the B team of the main team. This distrust among the various stakeholders of the union is certainly going to weaken the strength of the labor unions as the ultimate power behind the welfare of the working class. The surface of this issue also gives us an idea that the core issues of the employees are well addressed. For instance, not many things were said connected to the wage structure. They never said that they were underpaid etc. The failure of this strike also gives us an idea that the era of collective bargaining is over now. Based on the examples created by the other countries we can also predict that in the future the labor unions will survive on the merit of the welfare tasks that they will do. They will show interest in settling the small disputes between the employees. The days of the mass revolt are over now because authorities are in no mood to entertain them and the labor force of Australia is also not ready for it.

Media houses came up with big propaganda like coverage of the proposed Sydney rail strike to the extent when it became an issue of debate among the common people. The lessons of this strike call our hard earned for everyone. It all started with a demand for a convenient and quality life which is a right of every person, however, the same story ended on the note of a conspiracy theory where the employees started suspecting about certain job cuts. Trade unions or the labor unions should gear up for a future battle when the machines will take over some intelligent responsibilities from the humans. The industries of the future will be robot driven. The age-old economic principle of the appreciation and depreciation can be applied here. This principle has a great relevance for the industries of the future. Human capital appreciates a passage of time and brings in more liabilities to an organization. Machines, on the other hand, depreciate with the passage of time, however, recovers their cost with the help of consistent productivity and fewer liabilities.   

Berg, J. (2015). Labour Markets, Institutions and Inequality. Massachusetts: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Burgmann, V. (2017). Globalization and Labour in the Twenty-First Century. Abingdon: Routledge.

Clennell, A. (2018). Disruptions to Sydney’s rail network from Thursday as rail workers vote to strike. The Australian, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/concern-over-unions-sms-vote-to-stop-rail-strike/news-story/2b693b6d5d7057ba0f57c618c5f41e91.

Gabriella C. Gonzalez, L. A. (2009). Facing Human Capital Challenges of the 21st Century: Santa Monica: Rand Corporation.

Gupta, K. (2018). Will Labor Unions Survive In The Era Of Automation? Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/kaviguppta/2016/10/12/will-labor-unions-survive-in-the-era-of-automation/#49a5f7223b22.

Hawke, S. (2018). Sydney train strike means no rail transport and 'roadways will be a mess', minister says. ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-17/sydney-trains-strikes-will-mean-no-rail-transport-and-roadways/9336446.

Lichtenstein, N. (2013). State of the Union: A Century of American Labor - Revised and Expanded Edition. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Lutz Preuss, M. G. (2014). Corporate Social Responsibility and Trade Unions: Perspectives across Europe. Abingdon : Routledge .

Mamorsky, J. D. (2018). Employee Benefits Law: Erisa and Beyond. New York: Law Journal Press.

McNally, L. (2018). Sydney train strike ruling by Fair Work Commission denies human rights: ACTU. ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-25/sydney-train-strike-cannot-go-ahead,-fair-work-commission-rules/9361270.

Powels, B. (2018). THE SYDNEY RAIL STRIKE – WHY THE FAIR WORK COMMISSION HAD NO CHOICE. Workplace Culture Matters, https://workplaceculturematters.com.au/?p=854&utm_source=Mondaq&utm_medium=syndication&utm_campaign=View-Originalhttps://workplaceculturematters.com.au/?p=854&utm_source=Mondaq&utm_medium=syndication&utm_campaign=View-Original.

Powles, B. (2018). The Sydney Rail Strike - Why the Fair Work Commission had no choice. Mondaq, https://www.mondaq.com/australia/x/668826/employee+rights+labour+relations/The+Sydney+Rail+Strike+Why+the+Fair+Work+Commission+had+no+choice.

Probert, O. (2018). Sydney: Monday rail strikes blocked by Fair Work Commission. Rail Express, https://www.railexpress.com.au/sydney-monday-rail-strikes-blocked-by-fair-work-commission/.

Schmidtke, H. (2013). Ergonomic Data for Equipment Design. New York: Springer.

Sullivan, M. O. (2018). Sydney rail strike: Unions strike a deal, but major disruptions may still go ahead. The Sunday Morning Harald, https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/sydney-rail-strike-commuters-warned-to-brace-for-major-disruptions-20180123-h0n1sz.html.

Swain, G. (2017). A Short History of the Russian Revolution. London: I.B.Tauris.

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