New research knocks 'nasty' AWA stereotype on head

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New research knocks 'nasty' AWA stereotype on head

Concern with the current method of analysing industrial agreements by concentrating on individual clauses rather than looking at the overall effects has led industrial researchers at ACIRRT to develop a new model of analysing agreements.

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Concern with the current method of analysing industrial agreements by concentrating on individual clauses rather than looking at the overall effects has led industrial researchers at ACIRRT to develop a new model of analysing agreements.

Unveiling the model at a recent ACIRRT conference on evaluating the AWA experience, held at the University of Sydney, ACIRRT director Ron Callus said the method was developed following a speech earlier this year to a conference on evaluating 10 years of enterprise bargaining (see 90/2001).

In that speech, Callus outlined reservations over pulling agreements apart clause by clause, and he told the recent Sydney conference there was something in the global test the Employment Advocate had to apply when approving Australian Workplace Agreements.

The ACIRRT research organised 382 AWAs into clusters according to reference to 13 variables: hours of work, wage increase, parental leave, performance pay, performance indicators, redundancy, employee benefits, consultation, change in the workplace, functional flexibility, training, occupational health and safety, teamwork.

The team - Callus and colleagues Mark Cole and Kristin van Barneveld - discovered that while all AWAs were concerned with hours flexibility, there were five major types of documents, ranging from those that dealt with hours issues only - what Callus calls the ‘stereotypical nasty AWA’, actually comprising only 18% of all AWAs - to those dealing with comprehensive strategic change.

The agreements found were:

  • Basic hours agreements. Single-issue agreements, overwhelmingly found in the service sector and mostly covering blue-collar and non-managerial sales workers. None provided for a wage increase in the life of the agreement, although there may have been an adjustment on signing.
  • Hours, wages and conditions agreements. Concentrated in the service sector, have hours provisions as their centrepiece, but also provided employee benefits, wage increases and parental leave clauses. Covered mainly managers, professionals and sales workers, and had a greater emphasis on performance pay, performance indicators and redundancy provisions.
  • Health and welfare flexibility agreements. Widen the change agenda to include functional flexibility provisions. Over-represented in agriculture, construction and mining, and transport and storage, mainly covering blue-collar workers.
  • Comprehensive flexibility agreements. Concerned much more broadly with change. Include a strong safety net approach to managing change with supportive provisions on wage increases, training, parental leave and OHS. Over-represented among blue-collar workers, and manufacturing, financial and business services agreements, where these supportive provisions are the norm.
  • Comprehensive strategic change agreements. Have a strong pro-active change agenda, informed by a strategic HRM approach. Spread across manufacturing and service sectors, do not reflect industry norms. Contain a raft of provisions consistent with promoting and facilitating change. Over-representation of managers and professionals. Also a significant proportion of blue collar workers, possibly skilled.

‘All the agreements are about changing something,’ he said. ‘The difference is in what they’re trying to change, and their approaches to change.’ Callus said the question about why different workplaces take different approaches is ‘the $64 million question’ (see 109/2000 for more research on why workplaces choose the agreements they do).

Callus said putting ideological reasons aside he felt the essential reason employers chose to go with AWAs to introduce some change the award hadn’t allowed, and that this suggested different strategic approaches to AWA making than generally thought to be the case. ‘While one thing they have in common is changing hours, many adopt a more complex strategic approach.’

The paper attracted some comments, with the University of NSW’s Braham Dabscheck made the point that he felt that with the new research ‘all they’ve done is discover a tautology - that there’s a Bell distribution of how things are done in the world’. 

 
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