University of Tasmania

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Re-invigorating industrial relations as a field of study: changes at work, substantive working conditions and the case of OHS

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 01:50 authored by Quinlan, M, Philip BohlePhilip Bohle
For over two decades, Industrial Relations (IR) has been under challenge both as an academic field (especially in terms of teaching) and as a term to describe work-related policies. This challenge has coincided with a decline in collective regulation of working conditions, associated efforts to re-orientate both academic and policy discourse, and substantial changes to work organisation. While IR journals continue to flourish, it is not clear to what extent the field has confronted these challenges. In particular, to what extent has the field sought to chart the consequences of these changes for substantive working conditions (SWC)? This paper seeks to answer this question by reviewing 1349 publications in eight major IR journals (2002-2008). This review finds that SWC (such as wages and OHS) were the primary focus of only 20 percent of articles. More detailed analysis revealed systematic analysis of SWC in 23 percent. We argue that in order to renew itself as a discipline and a major contributor to policy debates over work employment, IR must engage more directly with changes in SWC. Substantive working conditions can provide a measure of inequality at work which has consequences not only for workers but the wider community. Our paper points to research in other fields that IR scholars should seek to engage with and to contribute to. Finally, extending on Kelly’s (1998) argument relating to IR as the study of injustice at work this paper suggests that IR would be better served if it were to be conceived of as the study of the nature, mechanisms and consequences of equality/inequality at work.


Publication title

New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations










E R Publishing Ltd.

Place of publication

New Zealand

Rights statement

Copyright 2014 ER Publishing Ltd.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Industrial relations