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In this assessment, you will be continuing your detailed examination of the NSW train workers’ dispute of January 2018. 

(i)Thinking of the major parties that were involved in this dispute, and reports in the public domain on the processes that were followed, what were the specific points of conflict that were evident?  For each point of conflict that you identify, explain the exact interrelationship among the parties and processes that was causing the conflict.

(ii)Using relevant theories that you have studied in this subject, locate the positions taken by each of the parties in these points of conflict and then recommend what adjustments could have been made by each party to prevent the dispute.

(iii) In this task, you will be responding to a curated set of ideas and perspectives of fellow students in the class, provided in Assessment 1. A selection of ideas and perspectives of students in the class will be provided to you soon after the return date for Assessment 1. 

(iv) Select one idea or perspective and provide an evidence-based counterargument, using scholarly sources on IR theories, your own critical thinking and, if appropriate, your own experience.

New South Wales (NSW) Train Workers’ Dispute in 2018

The relationship between employer and employee is essential in maintaining the competitiveness of an organization. Employees with a harmonious relationship between their employers are always associated with a high level of productivity and reduced cases of industrial strikes. However, the current economic hardship and the growing level of competition witnessed across the world have significantly interfered with the employee-employer relationship. Numerous cases of the industrial dispute have been seen in nearly every sector (Gladstone, Wheeler, Rojot, Eyraud, & Ben-Israel, 2015). Employers demand so much from their employees to be able to much the growing level of competition and increasing cost of operations while the employee continues to demand more improved workplaces with better compensation. Most of the disputes are always caused by the constant demands of employees to raise their wages and salaries. The constant demands for such an increase are contributed partly by the insatiable demand for economic stability, but it is majorly due to the growing level of inflation and cost of living. Economic hardship has made it difficult for employees to meet their daily expenses at their present compensation and thus run to their employers to consider increasing their salaries (Jacobi, Jessop, Kastendiek, & Regini, 2017). Companies are equally finding it difficult to always give in to the demands of employees because the cost of doing business has significantly grown. Increasing wages and salaries will only make the already bad situation worse. Besides, giving in to the demands of the workers always form a pattern of subsequent similar claims that the company cannot maintain. Australia is one of the countries that have had multiple cases of industrial dispute that is caused by disagreements between the employers and employees. The most recent example is the New South Wales (NSW) Train Workers’ Dispute in 2018. This paper identifies some of the major parties, issues that resulted in this dispute, the relationship between the parties and the efforts that have been put to resolve the conflict.

New South Wales (NSW) Train is known as Australian passenger rail and coaches services for both long and medium distances. The government of Australia operates NSW trains and serves the state by offering large transport services. The train network has however received severe setback in the recent months due to the feuds that have existed between its workers and the management. Commuters have always lived in fear of disruption to train services now and then due to constant disputes. There has always been a complaint from workers regarding their working condition and the need for the management to consider improving their workplace. This has caused a long-running industrial dispute in the entire NWS rail workforce. The parties involved in this dispute include workers of the NSW trains and Sydney Trains and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), and finally the management of NWS train.

NWS Train employs a large number of employees in different categories that have been very instrumental in ensuring that the public gets transport services across the state. Employees are always the greatest asset of any firm, and when they are properly motivated, the company will always remain competitive. However, NSW train workers have lately had bruised relationship with their employers causing a high level of uncertainty to commuters (Hickey, 2018). The threats of strikes for an organization such as the NSW train is not always a reasonable threat to the government as it can cause significant disruption in the entire transport system. The employees are under industrial protection by the industrial workers unions that protect them from possible vilification by the employee in cases of legal strikes (Sullivan, 2018). That makes it difficult for the government to suspend workers who strike or ignore their workers’ plight in this case. The dispute is primarily caused by the employee demands on the pay increase and changes in the practical terms without involving workers (Gerathy, 2018). The problem started when train workers through their rail union’s demand for a 6% pay increase for the four years period meant to cover close to 9000 workers (Sullivan, 2018). Workers demand has always received negative feedback from the Sydney Trains that has always stood at the cap by the government on public sector wages, which is 2.5% every year (Gerathy, 2018). The offer by the management has always been considered too low and cannot be accepted by the union members. The two groups have remained at loggerheads for more than six months after the negotiation started. The most effective way through which employees can push for their agenda in such a case is by taking part in the industrial strike. Train employees have always threatened the management of taking part in protected industrial actions. Some of the threats that the employee put forth are the 24-hour strike that was expected to cripple the rail network in the city (Karp, 2018). However, the management has always called for the union bosses to consider the train customers before effecting the strike action.

NWS Train Workers and Sydney Train Management

Train employees have a strong union that works towards championing for their rights to have better working conditions with the favorable compensation plan. RTBU has always been the voice of rail and public transport workers in Australia. The union has close to 35,000 members drawn from those who work in freight rail, light rail, and passenger rail and any other publicly run bus networks (“About The Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU),” 2018). The organization is focused on working towards improving and maintaining more workplace safety standards for its members (Graham, 2018). It equally takes part in collective bargaining for salaries and working conditions that demonstrate the skills and contribution that workers make within the transport industry as well as the economy (Kontominas, 2018). Consequently, it takes the plight of rail workers towards wage increase seriously. The union through its representative Mr. Claassens claimed that the efforts by the union to negotiate the issues at hand on behalf of close to 9,000 members for close to 6 months were not successful as the management did not want to bargain on the issues raised by the employees such as pay and their safety.

RTBU has a close relationship with employees for which they champion for their interest. However, they tend to be at the opposing side with the NSW government and train management. Mr. Claassens went ahead to point out that it was clear how the management and NSW Government were ready to go to treat their hard working staff. According to him, workers are only asking for fair wages and working condition as a reward for their hard work. The Union has been continually criticizing the government for the hard stand on the pay increase, which stuck at 2.5 percent a year. According to the union spokesperson, workers are less likely to accept such a low gain.

Besides, there is the Unions NSW that was preferred to take over the negotiation process from RTBU that was considered difficult to deal with. However, the call for strike was still regarded as legal as employees voted overwhelmingly to take protected industrial action. The voting according to the report issued by the union showed that 94 percent of the Sydney Trains voted in favor of having a strike that runs for more than 72 hours and the 90 percent of the NSW trains employees who voted were equally in favor. This follows after the pronouncement made by the Transport minister Andrew Constance that the government was happy to offer an increase above inflation with the wage cap, but the six percent proposed by the unions was off the charts (Kontominas, 2018). The relationship between the union and the government remains to be unfriendly as every side takes a strong stand.  

The industrial dispute between train workers and the management of NSW train later ended in March after a new pay deal was reached. The new pay that was voted by the Sydney Trains and NWS trains was a 3 percent increase for the next three years (Kontominas, 2018). According to Rail, Tram, and Bus Union (RTBU), the agreed deal is favorable and likely to improve the working condition of its members. The voting showed 52.8 percent of NWS trains workers and 50.8 percent of the Sydney Trains workers voting in agreement with the deal (Kontominas, 2018). Claassens who is the secretary of RTBU NSW pointed out that the slim voting among the members demonstrated that the majority were not very happy with the offer.

Sydney Trains and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU)

The deal was reached after multiple threats and intense negotiation between the Unions and the management. RTBU was focusing on the issues of new timetable that was introduced before the workforce prepared. The introduction of the timetable led to significant overcrowding of trains caused by long delays for commuters. However, through the deal that has been reached, Classens believe workforce will be sure about their conditions within the next three years. The Union believes that all the agreement reached addresses all the needs of the workers that have always resulted in the dispute. As such, it sent directives to the entire workforce to drop any industrial action, but there is the need to work on improving the relationship between management and workers.

An industrial relation is an area of study that deals with the relationship between worker and their employer regarding the employment terms. The field of study has developed into an independent discipline, and its significance in the society has significantly increased (Poole, 2017). There are specific theories that have been used to explain the importance of industrial relations and how it works.

This is one of the theories that have been primarily used to explain industrial relations and how the interest of various parties can be defined. The unitary theory explains the organization as being a unified authority with a loyalty structure. There is a common interest, values, and objective that every participant shares (Tapia, Ibsen, & Kochan, 2015). Based on this theory, conflict is considered an irrational behavior and in such cases, firing striking employees is considered over negotiation. The unitary theory does not recognize the importance of trade unionism and consider it outlawed because it is an illegitimate intrusion in the rights of the management.

In the case of NSW Train dispute, it can be seen that RTBU and Train management were more like enemies even though negotiation was allowed. Union was considered an intrusion that wanted to deny the management their right to change their calendar as they deem fit. However, the unitary theory would not help NSW train solve the dispute because the assumption that the organization works in perfect harmony is out of the question. Employees had genuine concern over their pay based on the increasing cost of living and inflation and the hard stance by the management only demonstrate that no perfect harmony is pointed by unitary theory.

According to the conflict theory, an organization is considered as a coalescence of sectional groups that have a different objective, values, and interest (Ipole, Agba, & Okpa, 2018). In that case, employees have very different values from those of the management and the differences in values and aspirations that continuously lead to conflict such as the one witnessed in NSW train worker’s dispute. Based on this theory, the battle is something that cannot be avoided, it is rational, and forms the typical situation in an organization (Rainnie, 2016). As such, the organization is expected to resolve the issues that result in conflict through compromise and collective bargaining. Conflict theories believe trade unions are a legitimate challenge to the managerial rule, promote collaboration and competition within the industry (Burrell & Morgan, 2017). This theory directly explains what happens in the NSW train worker’s dispute where TRBU had to come in to help negotiate a deal between the employee and the train management after a conflict. Employee’s interest was to have the salary increased by 6 percent while the management insisted on the 2.5 percent as per the government's wage cap. However, Union had to help break the deadlock and help the two parties reach a compromising level of a wage increase of 3 percent that helped end the dispute. It is therefore evident that trade unions are a legitimate part of the industrial relations, as conflicts cannot be easily avoided.

The two theories are more of two different perspectives that explain the state of the organization and how stakeholders deal with various situations that arise. Unitary is focused on an ideal type of an organization where their conflict is expected, and even when it happens, the organization is capable of dealing with it without any external interference from unions (Blumer, 2018). However, that is not the case in the present world where instances of the strike are reported in nearly every sector across the globe. The conflict theory is more realistic and presents the state of the organization as it is today. Industrial relation is an area that is of interest because of the increasing misunderstanding between employee interest and that of the organization. The trade unions such as NSW RTBU are always crucial in championing for the rights and interest of employees and protect them from being punished when they take part in protected industrial actions such as strikes. If it were not for the efforts put by the Unions, the conflict would have continued. The deal that was arrived at between the employee and the management would not have materialized. As such, conflict theory is the most suitable theory that best explains the reason different parties in the New South Wales (NSW) Train worker’s dispute behaved the way they did and how the final decision was reached.

The student has managed to identify the principal parties in the dispute to be the workers and RTBU. While the two parties that feature more clearly in the dispute, it is not possible to ignore the part of the management of the train. The conflict can be seen to be between employee interest which is to have their wages increased to 6 percent and that of the train management and the government that insist of having payments only limited to the 2.5 percent cap. In that case, TRBU just comes in to help the two primary players in the dispute arrive at the most desirable outcome and end the conflict. The leading cause identified as the primary reason for the conflict is the need for an improved working condition and more particularly increased wages and changes in the calendar.

The students have equally identified that the union helped negotiate a deal that was voted by workers. Following instances of threats of industrial actions such as strikes, the management, and unions had to arrive at the agreement of 3%. The outcome that is identified shows that the deal was accepted, but workers were still not very happy as it was only slightly above 50% votes.

The curative set of ideas identified for this situation is to come up with strong human resource department that would help promote employee engagement (Raven et al., 2015). Employees that are engaged are considered to be of high morale and loyalty to the organization. Through such efforts, the organizations will prevent conflicts that arise regarding increased pay (Mone & London, 2018). An organization that promotes employee engagement is more likely to know when and how to respond to various concerns from the workers at an appropriate time to avoid cases such as those witnessed with NSW train workers.

The most effective idea regarding the conflict that arise between employees and management due to working conditions can be best solved through sustainable development plans. Through stakeholder theory, responsible organizations are expected to understand the needs and rights of all its stakeholders and work towards meeting each of them besides just operating within the law and regulations (Harrison, Freeman, & Abreu, 2015). Through corporate responsibility, organizations such as NSW train are capable to invest in their employees with the aim of promoting sustainable development, which focuses on providing their employees with the best working conditions coupled with favorable compensation (Glavas, 2016). In such organizations, it is nearly impossible to have cases of conflict among employee and employers as both works responsibly towards their goals while ensuring that every party’s right is protected (Supanti, Butcher, & Fredline, 2015). It is one sure way of developing competent and loyal employees drawn from different parts of the world. This is when the unitary theory concept can be achieved, as the organization will always consider conflict as irrational behaviors as any misunderstanding can be responsibly addressed without necessarily causing a problem.

Conclusion

Industrial relation is a field that has attracted increased attention due to the growing cases of strikes among workers across the world. The case of NSW train worker’s dispute demonstrates that organizations are comprised of parties with different values and interest. The interest of the employees is very different from that of Train management, and it is out of the differences in interest that such conflicts arise. However, through theories such as conflict theory, it can be seen that conflict in an organization is something that cannot be avoided. Besides, trade unions are always there to help negotiate when such conflicts between employers and employee arise. RTBU is an example of how trade union is essential in negotiating deals between management and workers to arrive at a compromising position that can be accepted by the two conflicting groups.

References

About The Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) (2018). Retrieved from https://www.rtbu.org.au/about

Blumer, H. (2018). Industrialization as an agent of social change: A critical analysis. Routledge.

Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (2017). Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis: Elements of the sociology of corporate life. Routledge.

Gerathy, S. (2018). Train strike in NSW to go ahead after unions, government hit stalemate. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-18/train-strike-in-nsw-to-go-ahead/9339648

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.

Glavas, A. (2016). Corporate social responsibility and employee engagement: Enabling employees to employ more of their whole selves at work. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 796.

Graham, B. (2018). Sydney train workers consider new pay offer. Retrieved from https://www.news.com.au/finance/work/sydney-train-workers-consider-new-pay-offer/news-story/4c86e43075157d6d2a6c05d2c469a3ea

Harrison, J. S., Freeman, R. E., & Abreu, M. C. S. D. (2015). Stakeholder theory as an ethical approach to effective management: Applying the theory to multiple contexts. Revista brasileira de gestão de negócios, 17(55), 858-869.

Hickey, D. (2018). What we can learn from the NSW government's Sydney trains crisis – Australia — Meltwater. Retrieved from https://www.meltwater.com/au/blog/can-learn-nsw-governments-sydney-trains-crisis/

Ipole, P. A., Agba, A. O., & Okpa, J. T. (2018). Existing Working Conditions and Labour Unions Agitations in Cross River State Civil Service, Nigeria. Global Journal of Social Sciences Studies, 4(1), 39-51.

Jacobi, O., Jessop, B., Kastendiek, H., & Regini, M. (2017). Technological change, rationalisation and industrial relations. Routledge.

Karp, P. (2018). Why unions are furious about the blocked Sydney train strike. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/jan/26/why-unions-are-furious-about-the-blocked-sydney-train-strike

Kontominas, B. (2018). No more train strikes as rail workers agree to new pay deal. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-24/nsw-rail-workers-agree-to-pay-deal/9583618

Mitchell, G. (2018). 'No other choice': NSW train workers to strike for 24 hours over pay dispute. Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/no-other-choice-nsw-train-workers-to-strike-for-24-hours-over-pay-dispute-20180116-h0j6g8.html

Mone, E. M., & London, M. (2018). Employee engagement through effective performance management: A practical guide for managers. Routledge.

Poole, M. (2017). Towards a new industrial democracy: Workers' participation in industry. Routledge.

Rainnie, A. (2016). Industrial relations in small firms: Small isn't beautiful. Routledge.

Raven, J., Akweongo, P., Baba, A., Baine, S. O., Sall, M. G., Buzuzi, S., & Martineau, T. (2015). Using a human resource management approach to support community health workers: experiences from five African countries. Human resources for health, 13(1), 45.

Sullivan, M. (2018). Sydney rail workers vote to take industrial action over pay dispute. Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/sydney-rail-workers-vote-to-take-industrial-action-over-pay-dispute-20180112-h0h6bm.html

Sullivan, M. (2018). Sydney train drivers 'still miles away' from resolving pay dispute. Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/sydney-train-drivers-still-miles-away-from-resolving-pay-dispute-20180122-h0lz2u.html

Supanti, D., Butcher, K., & Fredline, L. (2015). Enhancing the employer-employee relationship through corporate social responsibility (CSR) engagement. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 27(7), 1479-1498.

Tapia, M., Ibsen, C. L., & Kochan, T. A. (2015). Mapping the frontier of theory in industrial relations: the contested role of worker representation. Socio-Economic Review, 13(1), 157-184.

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