Reforming and restructuring the Australian workplace: a study of the Williamstown Naval Dockyard 1983-1993

Peter Jeffrey Holland

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As a consequence of the global economic crises of the 1970s, in Australia, micro-economic reform of the economy, and in particular the labour market, was seen as a key catalyst in providing a more competitive industrial base for the country. Underpinning this was a fundamental change in the conflictual industrial relations structure that had framed work patterns and practices since Federation. The Williamstown Naval Dockyard in Melbourne was the Australian Federal Government s premier dockyard. It had a long-standing reputation for poor productivity, inefficient work practices and industrial unrest and had been described as Australia s worst worksite. After several failed attempts to reform the dockyard, the Federal Government privatised this utility as a catalyst to reform the work culture. On 1 January 1988, the dockyard was transferred to the highly competitive private shipbuilding sector. As the first public utility sold by an Australian Federal Government and the first workplace to adopt micro-economic labour reforms, including enterprise bargaining, the dockyard provides an opportunity to examine the nature of workplace restructuring in the most radical time of change for labour and trade unions in Australia s history. The dockyard was seen at the time as at the vanguard of this change. This paper explores the reforms undertaken in the dockyard.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251 - 270
Number of pages20
JournalLabor History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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