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Unions face resistance in multinationals, study finds

Collective bargaining via the trade union movement is facing strong resistance from multinational enterprises operating in Australia, a research report released today has found.

The study, conducted by five universities and released at Victoria University in Melbourne, found that 41 per cent of HR managers reported that trade unions were not recognised at any sites and MNEs prefer direct employee representation and consultation with employees in their Australian operations.

Almost 86 per cent of HR managers said they prefer to deal directly with employees and only 34.5 per cent of managers said they would not mind dealing with unions should employees join one.

However, despite recent trends towards the growth in individual level and decentralised employment arrangements in Australia, union representation and collective employment arrangements still remain an important feature within the Australian landscape.

MNEs are still engaging with collective employee representation and consultation, particularly in traditionally unionised sectors such as retail and wholesale, utilities and manufacturing.

Where there is union presence, 75 per cent of respondents indicated that the role of trade unions in managing organisational change was best described by the statement "discussions take place with union representatives in a way that their views are taken into account but management are free to make the final decision".

Significantly, 71 per cent of HR managers in foreign MNEs reported that they had full discretion over trade union recognition in their Australian operations. Moreover, 68 per cent of foreign MNEs reported full discretion over union involvement in management decision-making, while 73 per cent stated that they had full discretion over employee consultation.

This study, conducted by a team from Victoria University Melbourne, La Trobe University, University of South Australia, Curtin University and the University of Newcastle, provides the first representative portrait of human resource management policy and practice among multinational enterprises operating in Australia.

The research report forms part of a larger international project network called INTREPID which involves collaboration between research teams from Argentina, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Singapore, Spain, and the UK. 

The survey focuses on six key international HRM areas, the HR function, pay and performance management, training, development and talent management, global staffing and organisational learning, employee involvement and communication and employee representation and consultation.

From a representative database of over 1,000 MNEs a total of 211 structured interviews were held with the most senior HR representative of MNEs in Australia, an overall response rate of 40 per cent.  Forty were Australian-owned MNEs with the remaining 171 foreign-owned. By country of origin the US, Australia and Japan were the most prevalent MNEs. Representation from China and India was quite low.


Launch details

A Profile of Human Resource Management in Multinational Enterprises Operating in Australia 

By Anthony McDonnell, Helen Russell, Gitika Sablok, John Burgess, Pauline Stanton, Timothy Bartram, Brendan Boyle & Karen Manning

Victoria University Melbourne, La Trobe University, University of South Australia, Curtin University, University of Newcastle

When: Wednesday 24 August 4.30pm - 6.30pm

Where: Level 9 Room 9.15 Victoria University 300 Flinders St

Speakers: Peter Wilson (President AHRI), Professor Peter Dowling (La Trobe University), Professor John Burgess (Curtin University

Chair: Professor Pauline Stanton, Victoria University

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