Work councils could be the future of Australian industrial democracy in an ABCC world

Analyses

 

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Eugene Schofield-Georgeson, University of Technology Sydney

Work councils are one model of industrial relations that could potentially fill the enormous gap in Australian industrial democracy left by precarious employment and the decline of the union movement.

Canberra was once again the scene of further blows against construction workers and their union when the federal government this week passed legislation to hasten the onset of laws linked to the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

In something of a one-two combination for the Australian union movement, the ABCC’s return accompanies reports that national union coverage has dwindled to its lowest ebb. Union membership now stands at around 15%.

In Australia, the growth of casual jobs outstrips the creation of permanent jobs by nearly two to one. Such precarious employment prevents workers putting down roots in their workplace, joining a union or engaging in enterprise bargaining.

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10th Anniversary Wheelwright Lecture: Manufacturing the Future: Cultures of Production for the Anthropocene    

10th Anniversary Wheelwright Lecture: Manufacturing the Future: Cultures of Production for the Anthropocene    

Events, Katherine Gibson

Invitation       

About the lecture

Debates about the future of manufacturing in Australia return to prominence every few years, prompted by the latest downturn in employment or closure of a plant. The overarching narrative of change is one of decline. Since the heyday of protectionism when 30% of the workforce was employed in manufacturing, today only 8% are employed in the sector and union membership has sunk to an all-time low of just over 12%.

The prognosis of decline has intensified with recent plant closures in the foreign owned automotive industry and the shedding of 20 per cent of the manufacturing workforce between 2008 and 2015. Yet, there is strong popular support for maintaining and strengthening a manufacturing base in this country and, according to the promos for the 2017 National Manufacturing Summit, there are signs that manufacturing  industry in Australia may be ‘turning a corner’.

Clearly manufacturing is far from dead, but the apparent invisibility of a buoyant manufacturing culture is worrisome. In this lecture Professor Katherine Gibson will approach the issue of a manufacturing future for Australia by asking: what kinds of manufacturing cultures might be up to the challenges of the Anthropocene? Professor Gibson will present initial findings from qualitative research she is conducting with colleagues at Western Sydney University and the University of Newcastle, on a range of innovative manufacturing enterprises, and whether there are businesses in Australia that genuinely sustain equitable communities and healthy ecologies while remaining financially viable. The research is framed by the diverse economies research agenda which opens analysis to the diversity of ways of producing and distributing new wealth and seeks to displace the primacy of an abstracted and capitalocentric model of enterprise behavior.

About the speaker

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