The impact of the Workplace Relations Act on regional patterns of industrial relations: the Illawarra region of Australia, 1996 - 2004
Work Choices fundamentally restructured the Australian industrial relations system in 2005, by marginalizing the role of awards and the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, privileging individual contracts and restricting industrial action by trade unions. The Workplace Relations Act 1996 (WRA) represented a significant first step in this direction prior to the Liberal National coalition gaining control of the Senate in 2005. However, there has been no extensive workplace data of the kind produced by the Australian Workplace Relations Survey to take stock of the impact of the WRA. This study undertakes a stocktake of the impact of the WRA for the Illawarra region. It compares data for trade unions, employer associations, forms of employee participation, workplace reductions, industrial disputes and payment systems from the Illawarra Regional Workplace Industrial Relations Survey 1996 with a further survey in 2004. It concludes that while the WRA did impact on the region, the Illawarra nevertheless maintained a distinctive pattern of industrial relations in which the New South Wales State system was more influential. If this provides any indication of the wider impact of the WRA, it offers strong reasons as to why the government proceeded with Work Choices.