In the years following the second World War, the relationship between workers and employers were decidedly adversarial and combative in nature. Strikes and loss of man-days of work were a common feature of the industrial landscape. In 1955, there was a high of 275 strikes, involving 57,000 workers, and a record loss of 946,000 man-days.
The Industrial Relations Act (then known as the Industrial Relations Bill) was brought into force in 1960 with the intention, as highlighted by the then Minister for Labour and Law, Mr K.M. Byrne, of “the encouragement of collective bargaining with a view to the free negotiation of collective agreements on matters affecting the relations between employers and employees, conciliation to assist in the negotiations and, as far as possible, to remove deadlocks in the negotiations, and finally, arbitration where agreement cannot be reached.”
In essence, the Act provided a means of preventing industrial disputes through facilitating and certifying (and enforcing where necessary) agreements freely made between unions and employers. It also offered an alternative to industrial action as the means for settling disputes viz the peaceful settlement of disputes through fair, fast and inexpensive arbitration by the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC). The Minister noted thus: ”Strikes and lock-outs and other traditional forms of direct action cause suffering and hardship to those involved, and economic loss to the community as a whole on a scale which a progressive society, aiming at a happier life and higher economic standards for all, cannot tolerate and cannot afford........what we are setting out to do is to substitute the rule of law for the law of the jungle in industrial relations..”
IAC - Over the years
The IAC made good progress in the years following its inception on 15 Sep 1960. The number of awards relating to industrial disputes that were delivered by the Court rose sharply from 8 in the first 15 months of its operation to 88 in 1963. Similarly, the number of collective agreements certified rose from 121 to 268 over the same periods. Due to the high number of industrial disputes in the early 1960s, a second Court was constituted in 1962.
From 1964 to 1969, the IAC made an average of 58 awards yearly, covering on average about 9,200 workers. An average of 184 collective agreements covering about 26,000 workers, was certified yearly. The efforts of the IAC had a definite impact on the way in which unions and employers started to relate to each other.
The late 1960s saw a climate of growing industrial peace. This was due partly to the work of the IAC but also to legislative changes such as the enactment of the Employment Act in 1968, and development of a co-operative relationship between unions and employers, facilitated by the government, among other things. With a gradual decrease in the number of dispute cases, the second Court ceased functioning since 1970.
Over the last 10 years, the number of dispute cases lodged with the Court averaged 6 per year. The majority of these disputes involved the quantum of increments and/or bonuses and continuation of collective agreements. In addition, an average of 14 applications for variation of collective agreements was filed for approval and an average of 380 collective agreements filed for certification yearly