EMPLOYMENT RELATIONSHIP AND STATE INVOLVEMENT
Employees and employers are parties which interact in a direct manner in the employment relationship. But there is also a third significant party that may not be involved directly and this is the state. The employees in Australia, just like in many other nations across the world, have had the need to be represented. Such representation comes in the form of labor unions. The employment relationship is currently in a changing process (ILO, 2006). It is imperative to understand the reasons for the state being interested in getting involved in the employment relations. This paper is going to focus on the issue of whether the state should stay out of employment relationship. The paper will specifically focus on three points that will be discussed in order to illustrate why the state should not get involved in the employment relationship which include; Industrial Court of Queensland, union intervention and industrial discipline among employers and employees. The research question that will guide the discussion is going to be; Does the staying out of the employment relationship by the state increase competitiveness, efficiency, productivity and well-being for the employers and employees?
Roan and White (2010) note that the need for establishing industrial relationship in Australia came after the period of strikes from 1890, which ended in a depression of the Australian society. The social evolution that led to the development of the global market economy, contributed to the need for implementing an arbitrary organism, coordinated by quasy – judicial tribunals which were in charge of settling the “ ‘fair and reasonable wage’ for workers and their families or industrial awards, depending on the industry” (Roan & White, 2010, p. 339). Beginning from the year 2009, the national industrial relationships in Australia are operated under Fair Work Australia (FWA), which is responsible for conciliating and arbitrating the disputes between parties, setting the regulations for the awarding system, facilitating the companies’ bargaining, granting remedies for what is considered unfair dismissal, generating regulations for industrial organizations and determining appeals (Acton 2011).
In order to support the idea that the state should not be a part of the employment relationship in Australia, the current involvement of the state has to be defined. Moreover, there should be identifying of how the situation could be different if the industrial relations would include the employees and the employers alone without the state involvement. In Queensland, Australia, the employee relationship is monitored by the Industrial Court of Queensland (“Industrial Court of Queensland”, 2012). Its responsibilities in the industrial relationship include dealing with claims for unpaid salaries, compensations and rehabilitations, protecting the “Worker’s Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003” (“Industrial Court of Queensland”, 2012). But on the other hand, it is important to note that, the organ that arbitrates the industrial relations in Queensland is an independent one – The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission. The Commission is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that that the objects included in the Industrial Relations Act 1999 are met by employees and employers, in order to work together for the economic prosperity of the state (“Industrial Court of Queensland”, 2012). Therefore, as some people would argue, this implies that the state’s involvement in the industrial relations in Queensland is meant to generate economic prosperity for the region and for the country, in general (Leitch, 2006). This objective actually concerns both the employers and the employees, as the state’s general economic prosperity also imply corporate or individual prosperity. Hence, the state protects and promotes the wellbeing of employers and employees. From this perspective, it can be said that the state’s involvement in the employment relationship is justified. This view can be supported further by pointing out the fact that this institution is transparent and it offers information to employees, employers and also to advocates to what they should do when a work related matter is raised. In addition, it offers clear and coherent information regarding the procedures needed to be followed when dealing with this institution (“Industrial Court of Queensland”, 2012). .
However, at the base of these procedures, working guides, documents, amendments, acts and legislations regarding the industrial relations, the key actors are the employers and the employees. The question that comes in is; since the employer and employee represent the two parties concerned about how their relationship develops, what has state got to do with this relationship? Several solid arguments for supporting the state’s involvement in the industrial relations were found: maintaining an organized space for the development of these relations and acting as an arbiter in issues concerning work termination, disputes, awarding system or supporting and protecting the wellbeing of the individuals and of enterprises (“The role of the state in employment relations”, n.d). However, as the latest trends in Australia tend to diminish the awarding system and to generate an unprotected industrial relations system, there should be conceptualizing of a plan that would facilitate solely the bargaining between the employees and employers within the employment relationship. Employees are interested in their wages, in their benefits and awards, and in general, in their wellbeing, which is partially assured by their employment status. On the other hand, the employers are concerned with work efficiency, which generates productivity and profits for the company. As both the employer and the employee know the benefits and the obligations that they have towards each other, the bargaining and the agreements between them should only be their concern. In this regard, some people may say that the lack of involvement of the state in this matter can lead to working disputes such as termination of the employment in bad conditions, discrimination or an imbalanced and chaotic system of wages, benefits or awards. However, this is where the unions should step in and negotiate on behalf of the actors that they support (employees or employers).
Moreover, as Keynes states, an economic principle is that the “wage is equal to the marginal product of labour” (1935, p. 8) and this should be the main principle of employment relations without state’s involvement. This system based on the lack of involvement of the state in the employment relationship would require industrial discipline from both parties and, as Lansbury (2009) observes, employees and employers would have to maintain “a balance between equity and efficiency in work and employment” (p. 336). Such a system would not only develop competitiveness among employees, but also among companies, which would lead to increased productivity.
Therefore, to conclude; in the current economic context of Queensland, Australia (as in all other states), there would be a need to change the implementation of the employment relationship, by taking out the state’s involvement, in order to realize increased competitiveness, efficiency, productivity and wellbeing. Although at the start, this would be challenging and would also generate more employment disputes of various forms, but such a situation would strengthen the role of the unions and the collective bargaining in the state.
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