Industrial Disputes in the Construction Sector

L.J Perry


The Cole Royal Commission enquiry into the building and construction (abbreviated to ‘construction’) sector recommended controversial workplace-relation reforms for that sector. The recommended changes are likely to be enshrined in legislation within the year. The Commission drew on analyses of industrial disputes that focused, in the main, on quite recent experience. This paper attempts to give a broader historical perspective on disputes in that sector by considering the pattern of disputes for the entire post-World War II period. Accordingly, data on disputes and employees during the entire period are gathered from Australian Bureau of Statistics current and archived sources. These data are classified according to sector (construction versus non-construction) and analysed. It is found that the strike rate has, on average, been greater in the construction sector than in the non-construction sector. However, there have been periods during which disputes in the construction sector have been relatively low. The most recent period was during the period of the Accord (1983-96), during which the strike rate in the construction sector fell relatively strongly. The analysis of this relatively broad historical period draws attention, among other things, to the possibility that the sort of strategies employed during the Accord years – strategies of cooperation and consensus building – may provide a more effective means of bringing industrial peace to the workplace relations scene of the construction sector than policies that are relatively confrontational.

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