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The Role of Flexibility in the Australian Context Rhetorical Essay


The following essay is on the need for flexibility of labour in the Australian context. This essay will discuss the role of flexibility in the Australian context. There will be evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of flexible work arrangements from the perspective of the employer as well as employee. The essay will look into the Equal employment Act in Australia, and its role in the flexible work conditions. The essay will also include the perspective of the work conditions in the country.


Flexibility of work is a major labour relation issue that has effect on both the labour and the management. Flexibility comes from the need for the management to adjust with the dynamism of the labour market that results from the development of the company and the way in which employees want to work.

The survey results released by the Australian Bureau of statistics show that fifty percent of the workers do not have choice over their work start time and finish time (Fagan, 2009). Twenty eight per cent of the employees had incomes that varied from one pay period to the next. Thirty-seven percent had hours that varied per week and they had to stay alert to work on call.

This form of uncertainty and unpredictability of work makes it necessary for both the employer and the employees to have flexible working mentality to allow them work harmoniously. Currently, 1.4 million workers in Australia work in shifts, which are organized by the management. This especially applies to the mining industry and service industries such as hotels (Fagan, 2009).

Flexible work conditions take the pluralist approach of industrial relations where the view recognizes that entities in an industry both the employee and the employer are powerful with different goals and objectives. The management role is to coordinate and persuade employees to work whereas the labour unions are the legitimate representatives of employees and they represent them through collective bargaining.

With this perspective employees are able to negotiate the number of hours collectively as well as the working conditions (Hyman, 1975). However, with most of the companies employing non-unionized workers to meet their labour needs and the employees opting for flexible rather than fixed working conditions it is becoming necessary to institute mechanisms to tackle flexibility of work to suit both the employer and the employee.

The government of Australia instituted Equal Employment Act that spell out flexible work arrangements that are legally recognized. They help the employees to choose arrangement such as the number of hours to work, modes of work and when to enjoy benefits such as holidays (Atkinson & Meager, 1986).

The most popular kind of work arrangements is the part time work or the job sharing where workers work part time or they share the work with another person such that each work two days a week. The other common arrangement is the shifts, where employees work in shifts especially in the mining industry where the work may go on for twenty-four hours every day.

The other popular arrangement is the telecommuting where workers may perform some of their duties away from office or at home such as making calls. The other work arrangements is the compressed work hours where an employee may work continuously for forty hours in five days a week rather than in two weeks (Bhave & Budd, 2008).

Numerical flexibility

The notion of numerical flexibility is becoming common than it was before as the modern worker is no longer encouraged to work through adjustments in labour prices. They are encouraged by the working conditions and terms of work. With the functioning markets of goods and services, company must also adapt to the high season and low demands on labour.

When the company is in low season, it may lay off some workers due to reduced tasks and responsibilities. During the high season, the company may have to bring in external workers or hire additional labour to meet the demand of the products or services (Befort & Budd, 2009).

Numerical flexibility has two aspects with the first one being external flexibility. This is where the company outsource workers when it is in need of extra labour. This is through short-term contractual workers who work for a given season. The second aspect of numerical flexibility involves adjustment in the number of hours or days worked by the employees such that they may work for extra hours or overtime in high seasons and few hours during low seasons (Morrell, 2011).

The company applying the internal numerical flexibility usually adjusts the labour within the company such that it does not lay off workers or hire extra workers from outside. The fewer hours done in low season compensate the additional hours done during the high season.

This type of numerical flexibility applies in many companies, as they avoid repeated layoffs and recruiting procedures that are tedious and expensive. The internal numerical flexibility is also considered advantageous to the employees due to the job security and the employee does not have to keep on changing jobs (Budd, 2004).

Functional flexibility

This refers to the extent in which the employee can transfer to another work. It is how the employees can perform different tasks within the company. Functional flexibility refers to the number of tasks an employee can engage in the organisation.

In functional flexibility when there is high season, the employee may do additional tasks. For instance, an employee may work as a technician and a receptionist in the company, which allows flexibility within the organisation. It involves having the labour force appropriately positioned to use different technologies. However, for this to be done the company must focus its resources on training the employees to perform different tasks (Fagan, 2009).

Role of flexibility in Australian context

With the Australian Equal Employment opportunity Act of 1984, the companies had to adjust their regulations and layoff activities as the law discriminated against layoffs based on conditions such as pregnancy or sickness. The companies had to adjust their schedules to fit the need of workers such as maternity leaves, parental leave and other needs of the workers.

The first role played by the work arrangement flexibility is reducing employee absenteeism. The absenteeism was usually because of stresses and sickness that made workers redundant. However, with flexibility the employees can adjust their work to fit them such that they can balance their work and other activities (Reilly, 2001).

Flexibility in work arrangements has enhanced morale and job satisfaction resulting to increased and improved efficiency in the work. When working hours fit the employees, it results in increased motivation to work. With increased morale, the productivity goes high and the company benefits from increased revenue (Wallace, 2003).

With the increased morale resulting from the increased productivity, the employees are more energetic and creative. This is because they have the choice to work during the time when they are most productive and effective in the job.

The flexibility allows the employees to concentrate on the work they are doing unlike in scenarios where time of working is inflexible and they are unable to attend other issues thereby affecting productivity as well as morale. With the increased productivity, the organisation and the employee benefit (Hyman, 1975).

The flexibility in work arrangements reduces work stress and burn out because the flexibility allows the employee to relax and recuperate energies unlike in scenarios where the work timelines are fixed and do not have time for employee to relax (Kaufman, 2004).

The other contribution of the work flexibility is that it has reduced the role and the influence of labour organisations. This is because with the numerical flexibility where workers work on contract, it is very hard for the workers join unions. Most of the contracts state that they do not want anyone who is unionised.

This challenge makes most of the workers who work on contact basis not to be members of labour unions. Functional flexibility allows the employees to start the work in many aspects of the job and cannot complain of overworking, as it is part of the in-house arrangements to shift the working of the employees (Salamon, 2000).

The companies in Australia on the other hand have benefited from the development of the work and they can now develop their work as well as increase their responsibilities on the development of the company. The companies have experienced low levels of industrial actions such as low employee turnover and strikes. This is because of the flexible work arrangement measures that suit both the employer and the employee (Webb & Webb, 1897).

Employer’s perspective on the flexibility

The work arrangements are advantageous to the employees as they result in increased productivity. The productivity comes from the need to reduce stress in the workplace and motivation that comes from working when it is appropriate (Nichols, 1997). The other advantage of the work arrangements procedures is that it reduces costs such as hiring and recruiting when the company is in need of extra labour as well as freeing the company from compensation obligations when an employee is fired.

This is because the employees’ can work under flexible work arrangements offering the employee a chance to determine the appropriate time of work such that the employer can hire workers to work during the time when the labour is needed most. This prevents the employer from paying redundant workers (Kaufman, 2004).

The work arrangement flexibility has reduced the influence and the bargaining power of the trade unions significantly such that they cannot be influential as they were previously. With reduced bargaining power, the employers can negotiate better terms with the employees.

Most of the companies that adopt numerical flexibility employ workers on short-term contracts, which make it hard for the employees to unionise. The flexible work conditions can be attributed to the reduced levels of strikes and industrial actions in the companies (Kelly, 1998).

The work arrangements are costly to the company especially in instances where the company has to outsource to meet the demand for labour. It is also disadvantageous to the company as it has to retrain the staff on the various aspects of the work to make them flexible such that they are deployable to do different tasks and duties (Mullins, 2005).

The flexibility especially the numerical flexibility where the company employs on short term contracts result in reduced employee loyalty as many employees are influenced by job security and they may not be loyal to the companies that do not offer job security to them (Salamon, 2000).

The other aspect of management is that the work arrangement involves the management relinquishing its supervisory powers. This is because some of the arrangements such as telecommuting where the employees work from home or away from the office make it hard for the employer to supervise them.

The employer’s must consider whether an employee is appropriate to the work arrangement as individuals who need close supervision in their work cannot be fit for telecommuting arrangements (Nichols, 1997).

Employee’s perspective

The work arrangement flexibility is disadvantageous to the employees because it enables them to live a balanced life where they manage family and work. This is an important achievement for many people to balance their attention to both the work and the family (Reilly, 2001).

The other advantage is that it enables the employees to work at the optimum time, and relax when tired. It allows the employees to choose when to go for holidays and when not to. With this kind of flexibility, the employees manage to be productive in their work and achieve results (Budd, 2004).

The arrangements are however disadvantageous to most of the employees because they involve short term jobs that end after the season is over, which makes the employees insecure (Wallace, 2003). The other disadvantage is that the work arrangements makes collective bargaining less effective as the employee can only negotiate conditions that suit him or her personally not collectively.

This means that bargains with the employer are usually personal and not collective, which is a disadvantage to the employee. The company may flout the previous working arrangement agreed upon and the individual employee may not manage to initiate a legal proceeding against the company.

The other disadvantage is that in some instances employees are forced to work for many hours to compensate for the hours they were not working (Morrell, 2011). The last disadvantage of the work arrangements is that most of the times employers do not consult the employees when designing the flexible work arrangements to determine the best kind of flexible work arrangements to suit the employees (Salamon, 2000).


Discourse on work arrangements is significant to the development of the work conditions. The development of appropriate work conditions allows the employees to work towards the development of their own company as well as their life.

For the work arrangement flexibility have effect both the employer and the employee must be in the planning stage such that the arrangement will meet the personal need of the employee as well as benefit the company. Assessing the work flexibility arrangements helps to determine whether the arrangements are effective or not. Evaluating the arrangements is important in ensuring that the arrangement achieves the set objectives.


Atkinson, J. & Meager, N. (1986). Changing working patterns: How companies achieve flexibility to meet new needs. London: Institute of Manpower Studies.

Befort, F. & Budd, W. (2009). Invisible hands, invisible objectives: Bringing workplace law and public policy into focus. New York: Stanford University Press.

Bhave, D. & Budd, W. (2008). Values, Ideologies, and frames of reference in industrial relations. New York: Sage.

Budd, W. (2004). Employment with a human face: Balancing efficiency, equity, and voice. California: Cornell University Press.

Fagan, C. (2009). Out of time: Why Australia needs a new approach to working-time flexibility. Sidney: Trade Union Congress.

Hyman, R. (1975). Industrial relations: A Marxist introduction. New York: Macmillan.

Kaufman, E. (2004). Theoretical perspectives on work and the employment relationship. Ohio: Industrial Relations Research Association.

Kelly, J. (1998). Rethinking industrial relations: Mobilization, collectivism and long waves. New York: Rutledge.

Morrell, F. (2011). 90 steps to employee engagement & staff motivation. Cincinnati: Forest Gate Publishing.

Mullins, L. (2005). Management and organisational behaviour. London: Prentice Hall.

Nichols, T. (1997). The sociology of industrial injury. London: Mansell Publishing Limited.

Reilly, P. (2001) Flexibility at work: Balancing the interests of employers and employee. Hampshire: Gower Publishing Limited

Salamon, M. (2000). Industrial relations: Theory and practice. London: Prentice Hall.

Wallace, C. (2003). Work flexibility in eight European countries: A cross-national comparison: Sociological series. Vienna: Institute for Advanced Studies.

Webb, B. & Webb, s. (1897). Industrial democracy. Chicago: Longmans.

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