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Globalisation and Employment Relations

Globalisation and Employment Relations This essay explores the issues around globalisation particularly as they relate to the industrial dispute on the Australian waterfront during 1998; the dispute that became known as the battle that changed the nation (Trinca and Davies, 2000). Globalisation can be thought of us the evolution of large firms becoming world-wide in their scope of operations. These firms are typically driven by the quest for growth and increased profits in the wider markets. Globalisation has also been defined as a combination of freer trade in goods and services and freer movement of capital (Waddington, 1999).

Held (1999) defines globalisation as: “a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions – assessed in terms of their extensity, intensity, velocity and impact – generating transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and the exercise of power. ” Further, three approaches to globalisation are proposed: hyperglobalisation, the sceptical and transformational. Hyperglobalists view globalisation as the end of the traditional nation states with a borderless economy taking their place (Held, 1999).

The driving forces behind globalisation are capitalism and new technologies which enable faster, more seamless communication. The hyperglobalist approach views

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the power of national governments as either eroding or at least declining replaced by more powerful forms of governance (Held, 1999) Sceptics suggest that globalisation is a myth. This view of globalisation is built on the assumption the globalisation is achieved by a perfectly integrated global market. Given that evidence supports increased activity between national economies, sceptics argue that globalisation is exaggerated.

Further evidence suggests that the world economy is evolving into three major trading and financial blocs: Europe, Asia-Pacific and America. Sceptics view this regionalisation as contrary to globalisation. (Held, 1999) The transformational view is that rapid social, political and economic change are reshaping nations to the point that the power, authority and functions of governments are being challenged. Unlike the sceptical and hyperglobalist views, transformationalists do not proffer a view as to where globalisation is headed nor do they necessarily subscribe to a global marketplace or civilisation.

Instead transformationalists suggest that globalisation is a long term historical process (Held, 1999). The increasing focus on globalisation has led to calls for Australia to become more internationally competitive. The nation is over governed and the workplace is hampered by interventions from third parties such as trade unions. The economy contains many unproductive sectors (ACCIRT, 1999). Australian ports play a crucial role in the national economy and were viewed as one such sector. According to Productivity Commission (1998) Australia exports 370 million tonnes of cargo by sea, and imports 50 million tonnes.

In 1995-96 70% of all imports and 78% of all exports moved through Australian ports. The total value of which was A$120 billion. However, many government and industry reports have identified the container ports, particularly those in capital cities, as being below world standards in regard to the number of containers lifted and moved (O’Neill, 1998 ). The Government’s Seven Benchmark Objectives for the waterfront (Reith, 1998) states that Australian port cranes lift an average of 18 containers per hour whereas some lesser industrialised countries are achieving 25 lifts per hour or better.

Historically, debates about economic reform on the waterfront focused on the role of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). By virtue of its monopoly position and outdated and inefficient work practices the MUA was seen as impeding competition on the waterfront. The coalition was elected to government in March 1996 having made commitments to restructure industrial relations to improve the efficiency of the labour market (O’Neill, 1998). The Government also made commitments to reform the Australian waterfront. The reform of the waterfront had been on the agenda since the mid-1980’s.

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