Employer and employer association experiences of enterprise bargaining: being careful what you wish for?

Louise Thornthwaite, Peter Sheldon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Employer associations were the main force behind the successful drive to prioritize enterprise bargaining in Australia. Through very directive state intervention, enterprise bargaining (and agreement making), since 1991, has increasingly become a system rather than just a 'level'. We discuss its consequences, intended and unintended, on the approaches of individual employers and on their associations. Our evidence mainly comes from policy documents of leading associations, semi-structured interviews with prominent practitioners and a growing secondary literature. We examine the take-up by employers – whether by choice or not – of enterprise bargaining and the reasons behind its limited adoption. Successive statutes have provided employers with a changing array of choices, including non-union variants that have been popular among certain groups of employers and in particular circumstances. The experiences of employers (and their associations) of enterprise bargaining have varied greatly. We discuss whether these experiences have met the original expectations of those who proposed the dramatic shifts from 1991 and those who subsequently propagated its virtues. This also involves examining why employers have appeared less optimistic recently about the potential opportunities that enterprise bargaining provides to them. For those who have bargained, it has met a number of important employer goals and, for many of those who did not, the system has brought a welcome weakening of the presence and influence of unions and arbitral tribunals. For their part, associations have faced major challenges from the system they did so much to create. It has decisively undermined the demands for the sorts of services that generated high levels of membership adhesion and cohesion while raising the costs of servicing members. They have responded unevenly through adaptations in funding and membership models, and service provision.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-274
Number of pages20
JournalLabour and Industry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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