Industrial quite complex and attempts at classifying

Industrial quite complex and attempts at classifying

Industrial relations in Australia is undergoing considerable change. The counterpart organisations to unions for employees are, of course, employer associations. This paper argue that employer associations exist to provide to employers, services to enable them to cope with the demands of unions and the complexities of employing staff in terms of wages to be paid and other legal obligations under awards, health and safety legislation, workers’ compensation provisions and other industrial legislation.

(Marker’s notes) Employer associations consist of groups of employers who represent and participate on behalf of their members. They combine their activities to protect their mutual interest and objectives. These associations can either be reactive or proactive. ‘However, employer associations have a wide range of functions, covering both trade and industrial matters such as information, publicity, promotion, finance, education and research, trade regulations and political lobbying’ (Deery and Plowman, 1985:182-3).Employer associations deal with industrial relations issues affecting their members.

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A distinction can, in practice, be made between employer organisations and employer associations. Not all employer organisations are concerned with industrial relations issues. Those which are, are referred to as ’employer associations’ (Deery and Plowman, op cit, p.191). Thus, employer associations are a particular form of employer organisation. In essence, employer organisations developed to provide services which individual employers could not provide nearly as easily.

More specifically, employer organisations were developed to fulfil a number of aims. The aim of employer groups are varied. The first is to regulate trade and competition by mutual agreement. The second is to seek statutory protection in trade, particularly concerning imports. The third is to provide services in the fields of industrial relations and personnel administration. The fourth is to lobby within the political arena in opposition to social legislation (concerning, for example, minimum pay laws, reduced hours of work, and, in Australia, the establishment of conciliation and arbitration tribunals) (Windmuller, 1984:1).

The maze of employer associations in Australia is quite complex and attempts at classifying different types of associations are necessarily approximate. People suggest classification of employer associations into two general groups: single industry associations and multi-industry (or umbrella) associations. People divide the single industry grouping into three sub-groups: autonomous associations, semi-autonomous associations and dependent associations.

The single industry associations parallel the role of craft and industrial unions, enrol members in particular industries and limit their services to the problems of those industries. Multi-industry organisations, such as the Chambers of Manufacturers and Employers’ Federations, service the needs of individual employers in nearly every industry as well as the needs of many small single industry associations which may be affiliated. In many respects these organisations are a counterpart to the state and provincial Trades and Labor Councils and conglomerate unions (Ibid, p.

240). (Marker’s notes) Autonomous associations – whether single or multi-industry – are bodies whose level of financial, staffing and other resources enables them to provide a range of specialist services to their members without the need to draw on the services of another employer association (notwithstanding the fact that some autonomous industry associations may choose to affiliate with multi-industry associations, e.g. autonomous industry associations which have chosen to affiliate with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry include the Australian Bankers’ Association, the Meat and Allied Trades Federation of Australia, the Metal Trades Industry Association of Australia and the Printing and Allied Trades Employers’ Federation of Australia (Deery and Plowman, op cit, p.191). (Marker’s notes) The bulk of employer associations are likely to be semi-autonomous and confined to an individual industry or sector of an industry.

Their financial and staffing resources will be such as to enable the provision of some specialist services to their members but, in all likelihood, they will affiliate with a major industry association (such as the Metal Trades Industry Association) or multi-industry association (such as a state employers’ federation, chamber of manufacture, etc) to obtain a much wider range of specialist services. Examples of associations which have an executive officer but which also drew on multi-industry associations’ support are: the Australian Canvas and Synthetic Products Association, the Victorian Guild of Furniture Manufacturers, the Packaging Council of Australia, the Bus Proprietors’ Association, the Private Hospitals’ Association of Victoria and the Victorian Brick Manufacturers’ Association (Plowman, 1978:240).Multi-industry associations enrol members from any industry. Members may be individual employers or other employer associations.

The various chambers of manufacturers and the various employers’ federations are examples of multi-industry associations. The main function of these associations is to participate in the making and application of industrial awards affecting their members. A multi-industry association will thus call meetings of members affected by logs of claims to establish suitable employer responses. Such an association will, by virtue of its multi-industry coverage, be aware of employment conditions and industrial relations developments in other industries which might have some bearing on claims within a given industry. The staff of the multi-industry association will research the background to individual items in a log of claims and propose responses for the approval of employer members.

The association will then represent its members in negotiations with the union(s) and, where relevant, appear on members’ behalf before the appropriate federal or state industrial tribunal (Plowman, 1978:24).Employer organisations thus encompass a broad range of interests. They are not concerned only with industrial relations issues but, as will be seen, provide services across the whole range of business endeavour: export, financial, environmental, training, legal, and so on. Their interest, therefore, are much wider than those of trade unions.

Employer associations are concerned with industrial relations and related policy concerns rather than primarily commercial matters. But, no unexpectedly, employer organisations vary considerably in their size and functions and many of the larger ones fall into both categories of trade associations and employer associations (Ibid, p.2).The functions of an employer association can be determined by its constitution and by members’ demands and can be categorised as follows: Firstly, provision of a forum to enable individual employers to exchange views and to develop and express policies. Secondly, representation to employers’ interests to governments and other public policy making bodies. Thirdly, communication of employers’ interests and views to the media and the community generally.

Fourthly, provision of specialised services to members. Fifthly, industrial relations activities and services to members, including representing employers generally, and individual employers, in conciliation and arbitration proceedings (Gladstone, 1984:24). (Marker’s Comments) As well as for those trade purposes, employers combine to conduct industrial relations. Indeed, their need to unite against trade unions has, historically, been an important stimulus to unity among employers who, for other purposes, regard each other as competitors. Such employer combinations usually arose in response to a particular threat and dissolved or became ineffective once the threat has been overcome.

The levels and types of staffing of employers’ associations will vary considerably depending on their sizes and range of functions. Very small associations such as the Spring Manufacturers’ Association of Australia or the Australian Valve Manufacturers’ Association employ no staff but, for a fee, draw on part-time secretarial services of a large employer association (for these two associations secretarial services are provided by the Australian Chamber of Manufacturers). Other small employer associations have their own full-time executive officer but retain a close association with a large autonomous employer association and the Victorian Guild of Furniture Manufacturers are affiliated with the Australian Chamber of Manufacturers. At the other extreme are the large autonomous employer associations which employ large staffs offering a wide range of specialised services to affiliated associations and individual employers. For example, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry employs 53 full-time staff; the Business Council of Australia, 16 full-time staff, the Australian Chamber of Manufacturers, 115 full-time staff; the Metal Trades Industry Association, 150 full-time staff (Plowman, 1978:237-263).A central national employer organisation which differs somewhat in its organisational arrangements from other employer organisations is the Business Council of Australia (BCA). The BCA consists only of the chief executive officers or executive chairperson of major companies operating in Australia.

Membership of the BCA is not open to companies per se nor to other employer organisations. Further, for a chief executive to be eligible for membership he or she must head a company or semi-government body which contributes an unpublished minimum amount to the value of production. The minimum level of the economic value added is increased from time to time to ensure that the chief executives of only the one hundred or so largest companies are eligible for membership.

The ongoing policy work of the BCA is carried out by policy committees. Standing committees exist on economic and financial matters, business law and regulation, human resources. As well, ad hoc committees or task forces operate according to the particular needs of the time, e.g. superannuation, taxation, international relations and trade, employee relations, education and training and the environment. Each of these committees is chaired by a Council member and membership of the committees is drawn from the Council, academic specialists or special issue interest groups (Nankervis, 1992:494-495).

This essay explored the activities and structures of employer associations. Recognition of their differences from trade unions is surveyed in the context of questions about the reasons for their formation, their organisation and coordination, and their strategies and influence. Employer associations in Australia cope with the ever-present possibilities of disunity by maintaining broad policies, not attempting to enforce unified action and concentrating on services and information. Arbitration, by minimising the costs of disunity, actually supports the tendency to fragmentation but paradoxically also gives employer associations a continuing role. It does so because a number of employers will rely on the associations for technical advice and representation in this arena (Gardner and Palmer, 1992:126).Basically, employer association seem to be more fragmented than the trade union movement nowadays in Australia.

Within employer associations there is a big variation in size and capacity which creates competition, conflict in interests and fragmentation as a result. Industrial disputes are one of the major barriers between employer and employee. A dispute occurs when disagreements arise about what the award should say, or if one party thinks that someone else has broken the award. The disagreement occurred between employer and employee that can be solved by informal meetings, conciliation and arbitration. During the processes, the agreement must be reached by both parties. The central industrial relations issues are, in turn, being shaped by the changes occurring in the parties and the processes.

The fragmentation affecting Australian employer associations may reflect a strategic choice that the costs of imposing greater unity would not yield sufficient benefit (McLaughlin, 1990:146-147). ( Marker’s notes)

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