Striking a balance

by 04 Sep 2007

Labor recently unveiled its industrial relations policy, which attracted the expected ruckus from government and business, and a mixed response from unions. At the time of going to press, Labor was listening to all parties and in the process of re-working parts of its policy to try and make it more digestible in the lead up to the election.

I recently attended an RCSA dinner at which Julia Gillard presented a speech on industrial relations. I’ve seen a lot of politicians give a lot of speeches over the years, and all of them are happy to beat their own chests and sing the praises of their own policies, while condemning the opposition and its policies to an eternal damnation of hell.

Julia Gillard’s official title is the “shadow minister for employment, industrial relations and social inclusion”. This “social inclusion” bit had a few members of the audience curious, and the angle of her speech piqued the minds of quite a few listeners as well.

Social inclusion is not usually a term associated with the workplace. Gillard, a former partner with law firm Slater & Gordon, recently gave a speech in Melbourne about some of the work she had done for clients over the years. As a solicitor she had a strong sense that she was helping people who faced injustice, and mostly enjoyed her work for the Clothing Trades Union – working to get a modicum of justice for clothing trades outworkers, who were usually migrant women working in dreadful conditions.

As a politician, she said she was still in the business of eradicating injustice, and this came across strongly in her RCSA speech. It wasn’t necessarily about unions or business, but more about a fair outcome for all.

This gets to the heart of the role and purpose of government, and also raises interesting points for HR. HR is often between a rock and a hard place when it comes to executing on decisions made by management, and acting fairly as a voice of conscience on behalf of employees. HR probably faces more than its fair share of ethical dilemmas, and Gillard’s speech highlighted the challenges faced in trying to reach agreements that are amicable for both employers and employees. As HR knows, striking this balance is often not an easy job, and it seems that Gillard is trying her best to do just this.