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Industrial relations

Hmmm, lost you interest already? Industrial relations (IR) may be a boring and confusing issue but it's one that's important to know about. This issue page aims to help you to understand the basics of industrial relations.

Submitted 11/10/2005 By Amy Views 62952 Comments 5 Updated 5/3/2007

The meaning of industry

If you had to picture what industry meant to you may possibly picture a group of factories full of rusty machines constantly churning out smoke. Well not quite.

Industry is work of all types, from supermarkets to stock markets. If you work somewhere then you are working in an industry.

Ok, so what are industrial relations?

Industrial relations are all about relationships, not romantic relationships but work relationships. In a very broad sense, I.R is about the behaviour and interaction between people at work.

The individuals, groups and institutions involved in working relationships are:
  • employees—that’s more than likely you
  • employers—that’s your boss
  • employee’s representatives—known as unions
  • government—the political institution that makes the laws about these relationships.

The number one relationship is between workers and their employers.

Interests in work relationships (Well some general ones)

Employee’s interests at work:
• to earn the best possible wage or salary
• to have a secure and satisfying job
• to develop a career
• to have all their rights met.

Employer’s interests at work:
• to grow their industry and make a profit
• to serve the community
• to employ a productive workforce
• to abide by legislation, such as the laws on safety at work.

It is when some of these interests conflict that the employer and employee relationships sour.

Why do people make so much fuss about IR?

To have a successful economy requires good industrial relations. However, there always seems to be conflict between employers and employees and that is why we often hear about IR on the news. Laws exist to ensure that there is a standard for all employees and employers. These laws are designed to ensure that industrial relationships work well.

When employees and employers both get what they need and want industrial relationships are working. It’s when one side gets what they want at the expense of others that things go wrong.

Why should you care?

1. Knowing about IR can be an advantage to you

At the heart of it, industrial relations are about YOU!
If, for example:
  • you have ever worked
  • you will work
  • you want to start a business and have employees
then industrial relations is something you can’t afford to ignore. Knowing you rights and obligations is crucial to improving the conditions of your work environment.

2. IR affects your daily life

When something goes wrong in a workplace, it can affect you even if you don’t work in that specific workplace. For example, if train drivers go on strike for a day, this industrial relations action can make it very difficult for you to go to work or study or if there is a strike at a bakery this may affect what you eat, and the list goes on.

3. Changes in the world today are going to affect your work environment

The main issues affecting work in Australia are:
  • the age of the workforce
  • productivity slow down
  • the growth of low paid and sometimes dangerous work
  • difficulties in balancing work and personal life.

Industrial relations laws have changed in recent years under different federal governments, and it is more than likely that this trend will continue in the future.

Each set of changes to IR laws will impact on your working life. So the more you know about IR the more you can look out for yourself at work.

How do I know this?

Deery, Plowman, Walsh & Brown 2001, _Industrial relations—a contemporary analysis

Lansbury, R 2005, _The federal government’s industrial relations policy: report card on the proposed changes,

My future, Top 20 Industries (full and part-time work),

This issue page was co-written by Amy Byrum and Doreen Chen

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b0ey 01-Sep-2007

hey guys... in class we r learning about this stuff and yeah it is a hell of a lot easier reading this and underatnding this then whats on the official website that takes like a million years to get into what u need...



hannahberry 19-Dec-2006

A recent story on Hack highlighted that this is still a relevant issue. Thousands of people turned out to rallies in every capital city last month.

Have a listen at:



Pippa 14-Sep-2006

Are there ways that the IR changes could specifically disadvantage young people?



a toop 02-May-2006

hey guys,

if you want some more information about the recent changes to the federal Industrial Relations laws, check out the Government "Work Choices" website:,10121,5004140,00.h... - is another good site which gives opinons of Government, the Opposition, a summary of the changes and links to major organisations involved.




Christina 11-Nov-2005

With all the stuff about Industrial Relations at the moment its good to have someone explain just what I.R really means. How am I supposed to understand the changes if i don't really understand the term itself? So Thanks!