Labour History

Employee Participation and Industrial Welfarism in Australia, 1890–1965

Labour History (2017), 112, (1), 137–154.


Non-union forms of representative employee participation have a long history in Australia, notwithstanding the privileging of trade union representation by the conciliation and arbitration system. One common form of representative employee participation occurred in the administration of industrial welfare schemes when they spread through large Australian organisations, particularly during and after World War II. However, the employee participation literature has largely neglected this significant historical movement in management strategy. A conceptual framework derived from contemporary employee participation literature is used to evaluate the substance of employee participation in administration of Australia company welfare schemes during the period 1890–1965. Conclusions are twofold: management’s motivation to introduce industrial welfare schemes was a combination of social integration in periods of industrial conflict, as well as organisational efficiency; and whilst employees often influenced decisions in substantial ways in the administration of welfare schemes, the scope of this influence was very narrow.

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*The authors would like to thank Labour History’s two anonymous referees. Google Scholar

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Author details

Balnave, Nikola

Markey, Raymond