The Strategic Use of Individual Employment Agreements: Three Case Studies  - CLEO Skip to main content


Over the past decade there have been three major disputes featuring large employers engaged in long-term collectively organised industries. The CRA Weipa dispute in 1995, and an earlier dispute at the same company’s Bell Bay site, involved the mass roll-out of non-stationary contacts of employment after enterprise bargaining had stalled. The BHP dispute in the late 1999 and early 2000 involved the blanket offer of Western Australia statutory contracts and a refusal by the company to negotiate a collective agreement. The Commonwealth Bank dispute in 2000-2001 involved the bargaining position in negotiations for a new certified agreement. Analysis of these three disputes may allow us to discern the motivation behind the individualisation process, at least for the large employers involved.

In the published literature, this kind of investigation has been undertaken in respect of only one of the major disputes: the CRA Weipa case. However, the three studies published on this dispute vary in their interpretation of CRA’s primary motivation in rejecting collective industrial relations in favour of individualised agreements. McDonald and Timo have argues that CRA had the narrow objective of removing ‘unwanted third parties’ from the employment relationship, in other words a desire to contract directly with its employees without the interference of trade unions or industrial tribunals. In contrast, Mackinnon has argued that a ‘strategic choice’ was taken to reintroduce managerial prerogative so as to maximise the exploitation of labout. A third approach was taken by Moir, who argued CRA’s management was trying to effect a cultural shift towards a neoliberal human resources management ideology og bilateralism, in which it had an almost obsessive ‘teleological belief’. In light of varying outlooks on the process of individualisation in the hitherto collectively regulated industries, it was thought worthwhile revisiting the three disputes and thoroughly documenting them with a view to discovering what light they shed on the objectives of the individualisation process.