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Definitions, Background and Equity

Employee Relations is essentially a core HR activity and is a more modern approach to managing the employment relationship and social processes and the application of regualtion and rules in a formal and informal approach in the workplace.  Practitioners in the workplace will need a sound knowledge of employment law and industrial relations systems.  Employee Relations terminology became more apparent with the decline of unions in Australia from 41% in 1990 to 19% in 2010 and increase of workplace representation and prerogative to  manage the rules of the employment relationship.  Today the public sector and certain industries retain higher union representation than the private sector with smaller workplaces mostly non union.    The rise of managerial unilateral decision making and participation in Australia has had mixed reaction and success and it is apparent its use is uneven across indusries and still presents a challenge on management.

Industrial Relations was traditionally based on the 'pluralist' ideology and  associated with concilliation, arbitration system and trade union activity.  Movement from centralisation to decentralisation in the 1980's, 90's and 2000;s saw a decline in union membership and brought an end of arbitration and complex state and federal awards with the onset of declining union membership.  A change of government brought about individualisation around employment contracts and changes to Workplace Relations laws with onset of the minimum employment standards, today known as (NES 10 standards).  With the consideration of the above statistics, certain industries require more hands on workplace representation and knowledge of industrial instruments than others.  The new modern awards ensure that every individualised contract is read in conjunction with the modern award that incorporates minimum employment standards, occupational health and safety and terms and conditions for the specific industry sector.  Managers are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the relevant award/contract and employment law and promote a fair, open and shared decision making with employees to ensure they are not disadvantaged. 



Human Resources Staff should keep in mind that all employment agreements (award or non-award) should be written, developed and read in conjunction with the relevant industry award in mind.  In the event of a dispute regarding terms and conditions, the law will always fall back to whether the employer has satisfied minimum conditions of that specific industry award.


Effective communication and 'fair' work practices will minimise grievances, disputes, union involvement and industrial action.  Most ER/IR issues are due to employees feeling they have not been communicated to, consulted and negotiated with in a fair manner.  

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