Book Review:
Employment Relations in Australia
Authors: Balnave, N., Brown, J., Maconachie, G. & Stone, R.

Balnave, N., Brown, J., Maconachie, G. & Stone, R., (2007). Employment Relations in Australia, Wiley, Milton

Reviewed by: Pauline Stanton

The authors state that this book has been written for a first course in employment relations, they argue it takes a balanced view of employment relations containing both employer and employee perspectives and that it fills a gap by providing a text that bridges human resource management and industrial relations. Certainly such an ambitious project has not been attempted since Margaret Gardner and Gillian Palmer’s book on employment relations in 1997. However, a major problem with this approach is that in practice it is difficult to separate employment relations and industrial relations as the terms and meanings are so often interlinked and interchanged. Also it is difficult to separate employment relations and human resource management because there is so much overlap in day to day practice. So reading some of the chapters I found that at times I was somewhat disappointed in that they were either too broad and trying to do too much or just not different enough from the other textbooks that are already on offer.

The book commences as a fairly traditional industrial relations text with a chapter introducing employment relations covering the usual theoretical perspectives, and chapters on government, employers, trade unions and enterprise bargaining and negotiation. While these chapters are clearly written and presented I am not sure what they add to the range of industrial relations texts already in existence.

The next six chapters attempt to include aspects of both HRM and industrial relations and it is here that the text runs into difficulties. Chapter six on employing people tries to do too much and ends up listing and describing rather than having a consistent story; Chapter 7 on performance management and employment relations is confused with too many disparate ideas; and Chapter 9 developing people is thin. I was surprised that the chapter on rewarding people commenced with WorkChoices and wage determination as I would have thought it more logical to identify key issues and challenges before identifying solutions. However, the rest of the chapter provided some useful summaries of key issues as does the chapter on managing occupational health and safety. The chapter on managing dismissals is also useful however, this chapter contained mostly secondary sources rather than up to date case law which I found disappointing. On a more positive note there are some useful case studies and some clear tables – however, a number of these tables are sourced from Raymond Stone’s book on human resource management.

The main problem with this text is that there is not a clear enough human resource management story for HRM students and practitioners and not enough depth to much of the industrial relations for an industrial relations audience. So despite the assertions of filling the gap I am not sure who would use it and find it valuable.

Associate Professor Pauline Stanton
Graduate School of Management
La Trobe University