Maintaining union voice in the Australian university sector: Union strategy and non-union forms of employee participation

Alison Barnes*, Craig MacMillan, Raymond Markey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


In 2005, Australian universities were required by a federal government, well known for its hostility to unions, to develop representative forms of employee consultation. This requirement posed a considerable threat to union voice in the sector. The article examines the union response to this situation. Our findings suggest that in the short term, the unions adopted a strategy of compliance with this requirement through support for the development of hybrid forms of voice, such as staff consultative committees. The unions then sought to dominate these committees by ensuring that union members were elected as staff representatives, thereby safeguarding the dominance of union voice. The non-union employee representation that was created, however, was constrained as an expression of employee voice. The findings are consistent with Anglo-Saxon literature focusing on the union substitution role of non-union forms of employee representation. There are also resonances in the union strategy with European trends for complementary relations between unions and union-dominated forms of non-union employee representation. However, while our study confirms the importance of the role of the state in determining the structure of non-union employee representation, it departs from the literature in demonstrating an instance where union substitution was sought by the state rather than by management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)565-582
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Industrial Relations
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


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