Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Management, Marketing and Employment Relations


In Australia during the 1990s, jobs offered by employers had increasingly differentiated standards of wages, conditions and security. For some workers, this has meant experiencing wages and working conditions that challenge the Australian tradition that employment will be sufficient for avoiding poverty and securing the reproduction of labour. The trend of polarisation nationally was also evident in the Metals Manufacturing industry and in the lllawarra region. The two most significant developments in Metals Manufacturing in the 1990s were (i) the rise in casual employment (including labour hire); and (ii) the masculinisation of employment in the industry, including non-standard employment. These two developments occurred in the context of prolonged decline in total employment in Metals Manufacturing. Polarisation in Metals Manufacturing was most evident in wages, hours of work and by employment status. Studying polarisation in this industry revealed a dynamic relation between the degradation and polarisation of labour market standards. The disadvantages of casual employment relative to the advantages of permanent employment mean that its expansion contributed to polarisation. But employment decline and casualisation (particularly through labour hire and outsourcing) were found to have placed pressure on the standards and working conditions of permanent workers. So degradation was evident. Nevertheless, the declioe in employment and the casualisation of employment also made permanent work much more valuable because of its relative scarcity. This change in relativity between permanent and casual employment represents polarisation, regardless of the degradation in standards experienced by permanent workers. In keeping with labour market segmentation theory, it was found that labour market trends in the 1990s were constructed upon long-standing segmentation based on sex and language-background. However, segmentation in the Metals Manufacturing industry at the end of the 1990s is different from traditional labour market segmentation because labour market disadvantage is not limited to those workers traditionally considered to have secondary or marginal status because of their sex or language-background. The causes of polarisation were considered through the lens of labour market segmentation theory, which places most weight on the role of employers when explaining labour market advantage and disadvantage. Such an explanation was assessed relative to competing explanations provided by neo-classical labour economics and by Metals Manufacturing employers that gave market forces and the choices of individual employees most weight. Segmentation theory was shown to provide a much more plausible explanation of polarisation on empirical and ontological grounds. Extensive and intensive methods were used to reach this conclusion, with the research design guided by critical realism, geography and organisation theory as well as labour market segmentation theory. The research design was aimed at explaining the labour market in terms of causal relations at multiple levels, where levels were taken to be in an interconstitutive relation rather than separate (like the way that tiles can form a mosaic while retaining their own distinctiveness). The levels studied were: the nation, the region, the industry, the workplace and that of individual employees. The research design also depended on developing a more accurate and useful conception of the employer-labour market relation. Segmentation theorists have retained the internal labour market concept from neo-classical labour economics that impedes analysis of the way that actions of one employer can influence the actions of another. A new approach to understanding the employer-labour market relation that has more explanatory power is developed and applied in this thesis. It unpacks the employer-labour market relation by distinguishing employers singularly, employers singularly as an interactive group, and employers collectively. Considering the role of employers in this way provides deeper understanding of the contemporary spatial struggle in Metals Manufacturing between employers' preferences for an enterprise-level approach to industrial relations and trade unions' preferences for an industry-level approach, and the consequences of this struggle for industrial relations, gender equity and the management of labour.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.