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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?

Analyzing the Role of Rail, Tram and Bus union

Employment Relations encompass a much broader realm beyond the traditional concerns of Employer Employee Disputes and Collective Bargaining (Poole, 2013). The concept predominantly demonstrates how power and authority needs to be directed towards maximising organisational productivity and improving the well-being of the workers. It also advocates concepts such as creating large scale employment, introducing workplace reforms through effective HRM strategies for enhancing the skill of workers. As recognised by the Business Council of Australia, Trade Union forms an important element of Employment or Industrial Relations (Roche, 2014). Their primary concern consist of protecting employee rights by managing conflict between employers and employees so as to prevent overall disruption in the economy which is essentially against public interest. The employee rights typically correspond to the terms of commitment on behalf of the management during market transaction, in return for service of the employees as per stated clauses of agreement. When such circumstances arise that lead to major deviations from these terms and conditions like untimely payment of wages or uncongenial working environment, industrial disputes get triggered. In order to provide proper resolution, such disputes are addressed and discussed in Industrial tribunals that are presided over by members State Judiciary in association with employer and employee representatives (Poole, 2013).

A planned strike was organised by transport workers of Greater Sydney on Monday, 29th January, 2018, from 12:01 am onwards (Abc.net.au, 2018). Consequentially, the commuters faced a huge meltdown from an unprecedented shortage of drivers across the State’s Rail Network. As per reports submitted by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, the disruptive operation took place as a result of the inaction of Sydney and NSW Trains Management with respect to negotiating a six percent annual pay increase. The Government had refused to go beyond 2.5 percent (Abc.net.au, 2018). This defiance to strike a reasonable and fair enterprise agreement was highly criticized by the Union’s NSW Secretary, Alex Claassens (Abc.net.au, 2018). His reproach was primarily aimed at NSW Transport Minister, Andrew Constance who had publicly condemned the strike by describing it as a thoughtless gesture of a Union Authority. He particularly focussed his disapproval on causing this enormous inconvenience for the travellers and suggested the Union to call off this strike by the transport workers in best interest of the daily commuters and railway customers. Eventually, this agitation was terminated by the NSW Government by declaring a motion against the twenty-four hours strike. It was deemed as unlawful and a serious threat to the economy. The following report will be attempting to discuss the various approaches of Employment relations along with critical analysis of the Union’s Role and how it was implicative in the NSW Train Dispute of January, 2018.

Employment Relations and Conflict Management Strategies

The economic efficiency of business enterprise, industries and the nation at large is essentially determined by the dynamics of employment relations that aims to achieve this purpose by maintaining welfare and equity among employees. The concept of employment relationship is consistent with the social processes, lending an impactful meaning by means of formal and informal regulatory measures.

The nature of Employment Relationship is objectively ambiguous. However, it is the only option serving as a key point of reference that iterates the extent to which an employer is liable to impose work-related regulations on the employees and also the degree to which the employees can exercise their rights in understanding their obligation towards the organisation and the economy, in general. In this respect, it lays down various terms in compliance with the Labour laws, ascribes to the security provisions and also defines agreement about the specifics of payment of wages, statutory benefits, leave policies and other relevant working conditions.

Neoclassical Economists’ Approach: According to this approach, each employee is at   discretion to negotiate the employment contract on mutually agreeable terms and conditions. This approach also highlights the fact that employers and employees are equal beneficiaries of economic power and legal protection (Pohler & Luchak, 2014).

Marxism Approach: As laid down by this approach, employment relationship is significantly related to power politics and struggle against class distinction. It discusses how capitalist take advantage of acquiring all the necessary raw materials for production. It heavily criticises the concept of capitalism in light of employee exploitation. The approach advocates radical steps against anti-management and draws attention to the importance of rightful labour power (Eldridge, 2013).

Human Resource Management Approach: It implies an amalgamation of psychological principles applied in organisational setting to evaluate the behavioural compliances of the employers and the employees. It mostly emphasise on a strategic fit between organisational planning and procedures and business requirements with a close attention to employer and employee accord. This approach takes care of the individual employee needs such as well-defined interpersonal relations with their employers, scope for intellectual stimulation and overall satisfaction at work. To obtain such goals the HR Managers take various initiatives and formulate policies to keep employee’s motivation intact.

The system of employment relations consist of three main elements who act and interact with one another to formulate policies and regulate them under legal compliances to achieve organisational and economic goals. These three elements consist of the State, the Employer or the Management and the Employees. They integrate their roles and responsibilities within a larger environmental context which determines what and how their operational activities would influence the formulation and regulation of policies, which in turn is expected to impact every individual within the organisation.

Evaluating the Continuing Relevance of Unions in Contemporary Australian Society

Even though the context is regarded as external, the interactive parameters are known to be an integral part of the fundamentally dominant patterns of employment relations. As suggested by Dunlop, the nature of the existing completion in the market depends on the quality of products and their availability. One product can be differentiated from the other on the basis of the nature of technology used in its making and the degree to which it satisfies the needfulness which it claims to satisfy. Similarly, employment relationship is maintained over time depending on the extent of awareness among the employers regarding the well-being of their employees and the competency and skill possessed by the employees by which they commit to deliver services as expected of them. In maintaining this dynamics, the locus and distribution of power is often channelized to affect the economy through the country’s political system. The main parameters on which this relationship is maintained include:

  • The formal and informal rules regulating the progress of employment. For example, the   collective agreement in the form of Fair Work Act 2009.
  • The technique employed to examine, evaluate and appreciate performances.
  • Distinguishing and prioritizing the facts that needs to be reported.

Fox’s Taxonomy aims to recognise three definite sets of values corresponding to the studies on employment relationship and industrial conflict. These values also provide relevant guidelines on partnership between Union and management, strategies that should ideally be implemented by the management and the nature of the State’s public policies. These values are:

Unitarism: This value emphasises on the idea that the relationship between an employer and the employees is ideally based on harmony and common interest. This aspect gets reflected in human resource strategies that help in attaining organisational goals (Gladstone, 2015).

Pluralism: This value contradicts the idea proposed in Unitarism by reflecting on the fact that employers and employees essentially have different interest as a result of which there is always a high potential for conflicts to arise within the organisational framework (Sinha, Sinha & Shekhar, 2017).

Radicalism: This value typically has its roots in denouncing capitalism whereby the means of production, income and power are unequally distributed between workers and employers (Stephenson, 2013).

Policies formulated in a State are substantially determined by a network of interrelated arrangements such as the statutory authorities, the regulatory agencies and the Quasi-Governmental Organisation. So far in Australia, the employee’s wages and their employment conditions were determined by the combined efforts of Arbitration Tribunals and Judicial Courts. In addition to that, the industrial disputes and grievances between employers and employees were also brought to these bodies for reasonable resolution (Bray & Stewart, 2013). These independent operational bodies could be divided into three broad criteria:

Conclusion

Legislature: In Australia, the legislative division is composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate which are more commonly known as the lower house and the upper house. In the lower house, legislations generally originate and they are subsequently reviewed in the upper house (Wunnava, 2016).

Executive: The executive division in Australia are further divided into Federal level and State level where the key decision makers are the Prime Minister and his Cabinet of ministers and the Chief Minister and his Cabinet of Ministers respectively. Along with them, there are the Ministers of Employment such as the Fair Work Commission, the Tribunals and Agencies of Commonwealth including the Australian Human Rights Commission, Australian Public Service Commission, Remuneration Tribunal and Safe Work Australia. All these executive bodies are responsible for conciliation and arbitration functions (Das & Vijayalakshmi, 2013).

Judiciary: The Judicial system of Australia is engaged in interpreting and implementing the legal terms in case of any dispute. The judges and their supporting infrastructure have always played a pivotal role in the Employment relationships in Australia (Langron, 2016).

The Management body of an organisation is responsible for outlining the provisions for establishing favourable employment conditions. The fundamental aspect of this responsibility consists of extracting the necessary level of supplying effort as committed by the labour force. In discharging such prime responsibility, the Management has to face certain limitations like making sure that ownership is not perceived as control, properly plan the implication of the organisational goals, reasserting the control of shareholders, align the policy structure of the trade unions closely with the organisational objectives, prepare for policy implementation as per the decision of labour tribunals, imposition of certain restriction by State and technological advancement (Nissen, 2016).

In Australia, the Management system followed consist of an Anglo-American-Australasian Outsider System which is characterised by a diverse connectivity in shareholding, high level of ownership in control of institutional share, high incidence of hostile takeovers and a lot of focus on short-term financial returns which are supported intensive internal observation. The density of private enterprises is also considerably more in this region. Such firms are primarily characterised by a separate ownership with a large number of specialised managers leading to diversity in the enterprise and also in their techniques of managing employment relationships (Wright & Lansbury, 2014).

The forms of control exercised by managers in Australia are clearly distinguished into four categories that include Personalised, Technical, Bureaucratic and Commitment Based (Rosenfeld, 2014). Combining these control strategies with employee management ones, the managers seek to build commitment based on compliance. In recent years, Australia has witnessed managerial prerogatives whereby managers were seen to play increasingly distinct roles in employment relationship functions.

Unions comprise of a mechanism which help employees to participate actively in the enforcement of rules and regulations and contribute effectively to the authorship. The primary focus of union, however, consist of influencing the terms and conditions of workplace management for the purpose of protecting and improving member wellbeing. Australian Unions has been concentrating more on strategic reorientation by prioritising the empowerment and participation of women in the Union Bodies (Tattersall, 2013). The Union Bodies strive to serve its purpose by means of three distinct methods:

  • Raising the level of cohesiveness among employees to unite their individual goals into one common purpose.
  • Communicating employee issues to the employers.
  • Perform important role modelled in terms of political ideologies and pursuing them in interest of the members of Union.

On 15th of January, 2018, the Australian Rail, Tram and Bus Union of NSW had proposed to engage in an indefinite ban on overtime from 12:01 am onwards (Abc.net.au, 2018). The members had resolved to go for a strike on 25th January, 2018. In lieu of this aspect, the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia had informed the authorities that Sydney and NSW Trains would cease to operate during the period of strike. The reason for holding the strike was in compliance with Fair Work Act 2009 (Abc.net.au, 2018). In condemnation of this action, the employers had filed an application to the Fair Work Commission on 24th January, 2018 (Abc.net.au, 2018). They were backed by the Minister of Industrial Relations of NSW, Hon. Dominic Perrottet, who had cited this agitation to be against the norms of protected action, hence requested the commission to order a suspension of the 24 hours ban called by the RTBU and APESMA Unions and terminate the strike (Abc.net.au, 2018).

Initially, the RTBU were in support of achieving their member’s interest of fair work policy through less disruptive methods. To fulfil this purpose, they had sent out flyers and organised a ballot vote to know what the majority intention was and what could be the ways towards its fulfilment. The issue had been raised in interest of the 9500 railway staff who had demanded a six percent hike in their payment that was to be implemented by the arrival of the new financial year and should be covered under a four year term agreement (Abc.net.au, 2018). However, even after six months from the day it was proposed, the employment authority had not taken any significant step to revise the payment schedule. Since then, the employer and the employees had been in a state of conflict. The six percent hike that was proposed by the railway employees had been reduced to a 2.5 percent which was not acceptable to the employees (Abc.net.au, 2018). This had primarily triggered the strike on 24th of January, 2018 (Abc.net.au, 2018). It turned out to be a successful vote as around 84% of workers had expressed interest in favour of the proposed strike under protected industrial action (Abc.net.au, 2018). As per the result, the members of RTBU, under the guidance of Union’s NSW Secretary, Alex Claassens, decided to opt for the radical measure as they considered it to be their last resort to get their demand fulfilled. It is a known fact that Management always try to avoid industrial action such as strike and ban, that too which raised the stakes at an already overstretched rail network. Therefore, by resorting to such means, they would be compelled to initiate a negotiation procedure with the Union in light of fair and reasonable offer.

The strike led to a widespread negative outbreak from the daily commuters, although as per the reports by Alex Claassens, all citizens were given prior intimation, much before the proposed action, regarding the possible occurrence of such disruption so that they get enough time to arrange for an alternative means of commuting on the day of the strike. The commuters as well as the Governing Authority had heavily criticized this industrial agitation as the inconvenience was not only limited to cancelled and delayed trains but also zero refund on the booked tickets. The Deputy Commissioner of the Fair Work Commission had ruled out the proposal of indefinite ban highlighting it as a massive threat to Sydney’s safety and economy. He had also called off the 24 hours strike that was supposed to take place of 24th of January, 2018 (Abc.net.au, 2018). His order of suspension was based on the fact that such industrial unrest endangered the welfare of the population and would cause an irreparable damage to the Australian economy.

The Unions like RTBU, ACTU and APESMA had actively supported the employee’s rights of fair pay and they had initially opted for a less disruptive procedure to take the matter to the employing authority (Abc.net.au, 2018). However, when no substantial measure was undertaken to recover the situation, they eventually resorted to means of radical agitation. Though it could not fulfil the ultimate intention of the railway workers and received widespread disapproval and criticism from both the general citizens and the governing authorities, the agitation was able to shake the very core of the management as they had now realised that employees can take up a difficult route if they do not receive what they deserve. Therefore, it is expected that in the coming days, they would be willing to sit for a negotiation with a reasonable proposition.

Conclusion

To conclude the above report it can be stated that employment relations is a very crucial element of organisational regulation that requires a positive interrelation among the management, the employees and the State to function properly and achieve its goals successfully. The economic efficiency of business enterprise, industries and the nation at large is essentially determined by the dynamics of employment relations that aims to achieve this purpose by maintaining welfare and equity among employees. Unions comprise of a mechanism which help employees to participate actively in the enforcement of rules and regulations and contribute effectively to the authorship. The primary focus of union, however, consist of influencing the terms and conditions of workplace management for the purpose of protecting and improving member wellbeing. When such circumstances arise that lead to major deviations from these terms and conditions like untimely payment of wages or uncongenial working environment, industrial disputes get triggered. Australian Unions has been concentrating more on strategic reorientation by However, in light of a conflicting situation it is the responsibility of all parties to discuss the matter and undertake justifiable negotiations such that a balance is struck between the demands and their fulfilment. In absence of such, there is always a possibility of industrial unrest that lead to several unfavourable circumstance like loss of productivity, labour and goodwill in the market. Hence, both employer and employee representatives are required to take all points under careful consideration before proposing a means to fulfil the demand such that these unwanted consequences can be mostly avoided.

References

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Poole, M. (2013). Industrial relations: origins and patterns of national diversity. Routledge.

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Rosenfeld, J. (2014). What unions no longer do. Harvard University Press.

Nissen, B. (2016). Unions in a Globalized Environment: Changing Borders, Organizational Boundaries and Social Roles: Changing Borders, Organizational Boundaries and Social Roles. Routledge.

Wright, C. F., & Lansbury, R. D. (2014). Trade unions and economic reform in Australia, 1983–2013. The Singapore Economic Review, 59(04), 1450033.

O’Sullivan, M., Turner, T., Kennedy, M., & Wallace, J. (2015). Is individual employment law displacing the role of trade unions?. Industrial Law Journal, 44(2), 222-245.

Gladstone, A., Wheeler, H., Rojot, J., Eyraud, F., & Ben-Israel, R. (Eds.). (2015). Labour Relations in a Changing Environment: A Publication of the International Industrial Relations Association. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG.

Tattersall, A. (2013). Power in coalition: Strategies for strong unions and social change. Cornell University Press.

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