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Retail trading hours in Queensland: the rise of consumption in industrial relations?

Recent changes to trading hours in the Queensland (Australia) retail industry have highlighted the changing role of industrial relations institutions. An emphasis on consumption has been reflected in the recent overturning by a state government of an industrial tribunal decision. This article explores the implications for the relationship between product and labour markets and the use of regulation through industrial relations institutions. It is suggested that consumption is of increasing relevance for industrial relations theory and practice.


Recent changes to trading hours in the Queensland (Australia) retail industry have introduced Sunday trading to the Brisbane metropolitan area and high tourism areas of the Gold and Sunshine coasts. The purpose of this article is to examine these recent changes in the context of consumption. Our point of departure is the literature addressing consumption and the customer, to enhance understanding of both trading hours and notions about working time in contemporary employment in Australia. As both trading hours and working time are processed through, and legitimised as, determinations by one institutional body, in this case the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC), the interrelationship is important. The article examines relevant documentary data, particularly recent QIRC and legislative decisions, which illuminate attempts to control working time and product markets through trading hours arrangements in the retail industry. The specific area of reference is the south-eastern corner of Queensland, a state of Australia.

The research is based upon a single industry case study within the legislative confines of one state's industrial relations system. As such it carries the usual limitations to generalisability beyond these boundaries. In this sense, we regard the research as exploratory in nature, requiring further testing in more broad-based studies.

The article seeks more extensive explanations for decisions, particularly strategic decisions on the part of the principal industrial relations institutions, to broaden the theoretical and research parameters of important working and trading conditions. While this approach is consistent with the tradition of sociology informing industrial relations analysis for many decades (for example, Hill and Thurley, 1974), the exploration of working time and trading hours in the context of consumption and the customer recognises an important new area of sociological research.

Much of the history of industrial relations has been taken up with theory, practice and inducing policy for the purpose of making the complex web of conflict and cooperation in the production of goods and services operate in an economic sense. The end result of consumption has consequently largely been neglected until relatively recently (Heery, 1993; Frenkel, Korczynski, Shire and Tam, 1999).

Moreover, some have developed an important stream of theory and research which critically evaluates the connection between neo-liberalism as an economic system and the belief in the necessity to satisfy, or at least satisfice customers, which has come to be seen as akin to an impeccable logic from which employees as well as employers cannot escape (Du Gay and Salam an, 1992; Keat, 1994; Knights, Noble, Willmott and Vurdubakis, 1999; Sturdy, Grugulis and Willmott, 2001). More specifically, this literature emphasises the 'sovereign consumer' as the source of managerial decisions to redefine effort and replace established methods of compensation. To understand recent changes based upon the perception of market superiority as the principal determinant of living standards it is necessary to go beyond the walls of individual workplaces, and explore the impact of 'the discourse of enterprise' on the working environments of employees (Du Gay and Salaman, 1992; Keat, 1994). It is in this wider sense that we explore changes in working time and trading hours by examining the relationship between the institutional terrain and consumption. It is particularly important to attempt to illuminate the changing relationship between institutional arrangements, primarily those emanating from state industrial relations institutions, and consumption because decisions emanating from institutions affect peoples' working lives and free time.

It is clear that institutional mechanisms have been designed to minimise conflict and maximise cooperation by distributing the gains from production (profits or their proxy on the one hand and the terms and conditions of employment on the other). Given that industrial societies have exhibited stratified systems of the raw materials of distribution (wealth, income, status and power), the focus upon the production side of the economic equation has dominated analysis. However, the interest in distribution as a determinant of social differentiation increases the distance between conditions of employment such as working time and consumption. The graduated differences in hierarchical and stratified structures are less visible when revealed by shopping behaviour and expenditure patterns than when wage rates are ranked or working hours and output are connected.


Consumption, as a subject of interest in understanding contemporary society and in particular as a cause of social differentiation, has emerged in the literature (Warde 1990; Burrows and Marsh, 1992). While a number of reasons have been postulated for this interest, including some related to debates within the sociology of consumption per se, others have specific relevance to the discussion on trading hours and working time.

First, several decades of industrial sociology followed by the wider notion of the sociology of work, and labour process theory in particular, have created a 'sociology of production'. The recent interest in consumption may therefore be seen as a balancing factor in sociological analysis. While this has theoretical implications for the development of sociology, there is an important production-consumption relationship of contextual significance for this article. In particular, there is a shift of emphasis away from production and towards consumption, with an explicit recognition of consumption as an ascending influence in stratifying contemporary society. As Campbell (1995:100) notes,
   Increasingly, that which was formerly considered central is now
   viewed as margin al (most noticeably the world of work and
   employment, but also and more controversially, the phenomenon of
   social class itself), whilst topics long regarded as insignificant,
   if not actually trivial and frivolous, such as fashion, advertising
   and shopping, are now considered critical to an understanding of
   contemporary 'postmodern' society.

Moreover, at an individual level there has developed the presumption, Campbell (1995:100) argues, of the emergence of a 'consumer society' in which 'high levels of consumption [are treated] as indicative of social success and personal happiness' and consumption becomes an 'overriding life goal'.

Second, classical economic literature emphasising consumer sovereignty with analyses of encircling control of aggregate demand by oligpolistic capital, centralised government and the rise of manipulative psychological techniques applied to advertising was criticised in the 1950 and 1960s (Baran and Sweezy, 1968; Galbraith 1958; 1967; Packard, 1957). These critiques are now considered as inadequate explanations of consumption (Featherstone, 1990). Economic historical perspectives showing consumption as less homogeneous and s table over time than was presumed, and further exploration of it in terms of its potential to enable or dominate are required.

Third, recent discussions of consumption are consistent with a long philosophical tradition that has attempted to arrive at the purposes of production. This largely revolved around the question of the division of human time as between work (assumed to be involuntary, uncreative and constraining) and leisure (assumed to be voluntary, liberating, taking both public and private forms, and ultimately enhancing the most important dimensions of humanity). To alter the division of time towards an ever-larger portion of leisure was viewed as both virtuous and possible.
   When I suggest that working hours should be reduced to four, I am
   not meaning to imply that all of the remaining time should
   necessarily be spent in pure frivolity. I mean that four hours'
   work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary
   comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to
   use as he might see fit (Russell, 1935: 23).

Fourth and relatedly, consumption is consistent with the interest in individual rather than collective spending patterns in segmented product market. It is concomitant with post-Fordist production where there is a shift away from standardised mass produced products to cater for segmented market demands. Post-Fordist work organisation provides a shift of emphasis from standardised structures and processes (from the Hawthorne group to the individual's satisfaction, albeit as part of a team or organisational culture) in the employment relationship, with individual-organisation customised contractual arrangements, in some cases replacing the employment relationship with a commercial relationship. Some see the rise of individualism as a replacement of collectivism in labour markets, in the first instance, then moving beyond them into aspects of social life. Moreover, some see individualism as taking a form interconnected with economic growth, as 'acquisitive individualism,' and suspect that it is a stage rather than a phase which, inter alia, threatens established industrial relations institutions (Phelps-Brown, 1990).

The Customer and Work

A good deal of attention is being paid to the relationships between organisational performance, customer service and worker attitudes and behaviour (Du Gay and Salaman, 1992). There is considerable diversity within the triangular relationship between employer, worker and customer in different settings (Frenkel et al, 1999), and that diversity is reflected in the 'distribution' of control workers have in their relationship with customers (Frenkel et al, 1995). Some research suggests that greater customer sovereignty is linked to the potential emergence of negative aspects of front-line sales work (Frenkel et al, 1999: 228). However, there appear to be limitations to strict application of the control-resistance paradigm as the worker-customer side of the triangle is not unproblematically negative (Frenkel et al, 1999:221-9).

In the retail industry, combinations of skills (operating electronic tills, EFTPOS, wrapping, negotiating, demonstrating interest through emotions), knowledge (product identification, location, availability, applications) and understandings (non-routine transactions, customer complaints) require workers to interact with customers face-to-face and integrate a variety of product and financial control systems. The established work systems are theoretically simple and standardised, yet this cannot be assumed because of a diversity of circumstances. Moreover, it is the pace of work that exacerbates the negative aspects of both the processing of customers, their purchases and emotional labour.

Indeed, organisational attempts to ensure appropriate customer service by employees have been linked to HRM systems (Rosenthal et al, 1997). The use of HRM techniques, particularly when connected to systems of work organisation, allows organizations to use the customer to organise and control worker perceptions, attitudes and behaviour through customer surveys (Manley, 2001), and the technique of the 'mystery shopper'.

The point about retail work in this sense, and what distinguishes it from much of the sociology of work until recently, is the mere existence of the customer. Factory workers are in an employment relationship removed from customer attitudes, expectations, and behaviour. Not so the front-line service industry worker. The existence of a customer, more than any other characteristic, elevates consumption to a position where it significantly influences the feelings, attitudes, types, and forms of methods of working, the conditions of work and the personal consequences at the end of a shift. There is a more demonstrable and direct influence on the lives of working people when a customer is involved in, rather than absent from the work relationship.

We now turn to the state of consumption patterns which sustain our interest in consumption and have the potential to interact with institutional arrangements in respect of working time and trading hours.

Consumption Patterns

Patterns of consumption, as measured by categories of goods and services, vary over time and are indicators of the relative importance attached to the extension of diversity, even segmentation of lifestyles, and the shifts in types of product markets for sellers. Such variation is at any given time a reflection of the outcomes of complex 'forces' lying behind demand and supply. These outcomes usually result in decisions in the retail industry searching for adjustments to retain, recapture, pre-empt or expand sales volume. Obviously, this market exercise takes different forms, particularly depending upon the position of sellers--large chain stores, franchises and conglomerates to sole trader/family corner shops--in any market. These decisions themselves influence consequential decisions about working time and trading hours.

Consumption patterns, usually measured by household expenditure, are difficult to establish through historical statistical data because of the emphasis on output, and a tendency to collapse different categories of expenditure into convenient single categories. The National Accounts gathered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) however, enable some conclusions to be drawn as to changes in the pattern of consumption in Australia over time. How income is spent informs any discussion of consumption and reveals decisions about desired ways of living, given the economic constraint of opportunity cost. The Queensland Office of Economic and Statistical Research (OESR) compares per capita household expenditure patterns for categories of consumed items, including items likely to be purchased through retail stores. Expenditure patterns show a relative shift from basic to non-basic goods.

These expenditure patterns show some significant shifts between 1939-40, 1968-69 and 2000, with a continued shrinking of purchases at retail stores. In 1939-40, average expenditure on food (excluding dining out and takeaway food) was 32 per cent of average weekly income, declining to 25.8 per cent in 1948/9, 21.6 per cent in 1968-69 (Groenwegen, 1972), to 13.8 per cent in 1988-89, to 11 per cent in 2000 (ABS, 2001). Other retail categories of 'personal luxuries' (including alcohol and tobacco) increased slightly from 6.6 per cent in 1939-40 to 7.1 per cent in 1988-89 (OESR). Groenwegen (1972) traced specific categories of items as a percentage of total private consumption expenditure and drew similar conclusions from 1948-49 to 1968-69. Of 'non-basic' items likely to be purchased from retail stores, household durables, news papers, books, toys, travel and sporting goods and other goods remained relatively constant. The major increases came from the 'non-basic' categories of motor vehicles, fares and medical and chemist goods.

As at June, 2000, household expenditure on items in Queensland likely to be purchased from retail stores and shops suggests a continuing shrinkae of their product market in relative terms, as measured by the percentage of total household final consumption expenditure. This included food (11.6%), alcohol and tobacco (4.0%), clothing and footwear (3.9%), furnishings and other household equipment (5.8%) (ABS, 2001). These statistics exhibit a relative shift in consumption from basic items, many of which are the core business of the retail industry, towards more specialised products, particularly services.

In general terms, by the early 1980s retail sales growth, averaging 1.03 per cent per annum from the mid-1970s, was viewed as a problem by the large retail stores (Australian Business, 1981). As a consequence, retailers adopted strategies to counter the trend. The options included reducing costs (particularly labour costs), increasing product turnover (by making products and the act of shopping more attractive), increasing pressure on competitors or potential competitors (especially small shops), and restructuring ownership and operations (to take advantage of the variation in demand for general and specialised products).

The changing patterns of consumption pose questions for retailers in product markets. Attempts to 'regulate' sales volume in any specified time period by retail strategy leads to a rearrangement of working time for workers, and shopping time for customers. Although this suggests that consumption in the above terms--not just consumption patterns--working time and trading hours are connected, the process is far from linear, rather circular. Decisions are made about what to consume but also when to work and when to shop.

Trading Hours

The Queensland retail industry consists of a diversity of stores of varying size (by number employed, including self-employed), type of merchandise (general and specialist) and type of ownership (shareholder, franchise and sole trader). As at June 1998 there were 31 740 retail trade businesses, by far the largest of the manufacturing and service categories. The industry has a relatively large number of small businesses, with 68.35 per cent of retail businesses employing zero to four people, 27.89 per cent employing five to nineteen, 2.90 per cent employing twenty to ninety-nine and 0.85 per cent employing 100 and over (OESR 1998 Businesses by Selected Industry Subdivisions and Number of Employees). The retail industry employed 263 900 in 1999, the highest number in the ABS Labour Force category (OESR 1998 Employed Persons by Occupation and Industry).

Given the above level of industry concentration and the nature of the product, competition is often very strong. Moreover, changing consumption patterns intensify competition, thus placing pressure on operators to reduce costs, extend hours and improve productivity. The trading hours system in Queensland had remained relatively stable until the 1980s when increasing numbers of retailers sought extended trading hours through the QIRC. In response, on 24 November 1986, the Queensland government announced a one-month trial for 'optional' extended trading hours for all shops in the state. The purpose was to '... assist in establishing trading regulations in the future that are both convenient to the public and fair to people in industry' (Queensland Department of Employment and Industrial Affairs, 1987:5). An Investigation Committee was established, and their report of 20th July 1987 contained a number of recommendations to amend and consolidate disparate legislation. It introduced a new classificatory system of three types of shops to be administered by the QIRC. The classifications are:

* Exempt Shops with unrestricted trading hours. These are typically small sole-operator/family shops;

* Independent Shops constituted the new category of shop (individual, partnership, proprietary company but not public company). Employing no more than six people including owner(s), independent shops could trade on almost all days, except some public holidays. More than one shop could be owned, provided that no more than twenty people including owners were engaged at any one time; and

* Non-Exempt Shops do not meet the requirements of the other categories and generally constitute the large stores.

One objective of trading hours' legislation in Australia has been to preclude employees from being obliged to work long hours a unsociable times and on unsociable days, especially on Sunday. During the 1990s however, there was a general trend by State governments to ex tend trading hours (Kinneally, 1995:13). Unions consequently sought to negotiate working time arrangements with employers and have protective clauses inserted into agreements and awards to prevent employees being obliged to work unreasonable hours at unreasonable times.

Throughout the 1990s the Australian retail industry was subjected to 'considerable rationalisation' contributing to labour input savings, economies of scale and the extension of more specialised shops. The Productivity Commission suggested a move away from 'boutique' shops towards large specialty shops in line with the three-stage evolution of the industry outlined by McKinsey and Company in 1995. This would involve economies of scale in the supply chain and improved store management systems moving the industry through tree phases: small individual shop; large non-specialised store; and specialised chain (Johnston, Porter, Cobbold and Dolamore, 2000: 79). Aligned with these structural changes is 'a key fundamental influence on retail productivity ... changes in institutional arrangements such as retail trading hours' (Johnston et al, 2000: 76).

The Queensland Trading Hours Act 1990 established the framework with applications for orders to vary trading hours heard and determined by the QIRC, with subsequent variations to relevant industry awards. Significantly, some employers, through their employer associations, sought to extend trading hours by applying for an easing of trading hours restrictions in geographical areas, usually in Central Business Districts (CBDs), tourist areas and tourist complexes and resorts. In general they sought to change opening and closing times (principally to provide late night shopping), to extend trading from midday to 4pm on Saturdays, and also extend trading hours of non-exempt shops to include Sundays. This was very much an incremental approach but it was the most preferred and persistent method of extending trading hours.

Although there had been deviations from the restricted hours prior to 1990, the Trading Hours Act 1990 attempted to codify several pieces of legislation and establish one source of managing a system of working time and trading hours. Significantly, in an application to extend trading hours on the Gold Coast over the Christmas-New Year period, the QIRC noted its concern at the disadvantage which would apply in some circum stances to exempt independent shops when having to compete with non-exempt shops. Moreover, it intimated that when population growth occurs in some areas, even though trading hours may be extended, variations persist and the test of disadvantage to the smaller retailers needed to be taken into account on a case-by-case basis.

At that time, the QIRC was constrained to fixing hours only in respect to the n on-exempt, a constraint the Commission suggested would lead to standardisation which would not be suitable for particular business needs. In so doing, the Commission itself recognised that change and diversity would be needed to cater for the interests of the different categories of retailers and their employees and customers.

The major employer associations sought a similar rationalisation of the system in 1993 to partition the State into 'tourist' and 'non-tourist' areas, reduce the number of areas with differing trading hours and extend trading hours. However, divisions remained, not least between some of the parties and the Commission which, whilst wanting a more rational system, remained cognisant of the needs of consumers and industry in general. The Trading (Allow able Hours) Amendment Act 1994 was enacted enabling non-exempt shops to open extended hours from 8am to 9pm and on Saturdays from 8am to 5pm. Sundays and public holidays were still prohibited for non-exempt shops.

In 1996 the Queensland government established another inquiry to review the legislative changes since 1994. Further changes to the core legislative trading hours' provisions were rejected. However, a recommendation was made that the Trading (Allowable Hours) Act 1990 be amended to require the Commission to consider the impact on the small business sector of any decision to extend trading hours (Industrial Court and Industrial Relations Commission 1997: 17). The Act was so amended early in 1997.

By the late 1990s, the large stores wished to extend trading hours to Sunday in line with non-exempt shops and were refused by the Commission. The QIRC decision of 21 December 2001 to prescribe extended trading hours on Sundays to the Brisbane local government area, but not to developing suburban areas outside this area, brought the principal contest between exempt and non-exempt retail shops and their respective employer associations to a critical point. The decision, which rejected the Retail Association of Queensland's (RAQ) application for a wider area of Sunday trading in the outer suburbs of Brisbane, meant that some large stores which had been built in the newer suburbs could not trade on Sundays (Courier Mail, 22 December 2001: 1).

The day after the QIRC decision was announced the Premier was quoted in the print media as saying the decision was 'crazy'. One month later, the government announced a wide Sunday trading zone around Brisbane and the coastal areas, thus overturning the QIRC decision. In the Trading Hours (Allowable) Amendment Act 2002, specifying trading hours applicable in South-East Queensland, the government precluded the decision of the QIRC. The Queensland Retail Traders and Shopkeepers' Association (QRTSA) rejected both decisions saying that the legislation would make viability difficult for small shops in competition with the large chain stores (Courier Mail, 24 January 2002:1-2). The QRTSA has consistently opposed the extension of trading hours(www.qrt htm, accessed 5 June 2002).

The principal unions (Shop, Distributive and Allied employees Union (SDA) and Australian Services Union (ASU)) also criticised the government's decision. The SDA and the Australian Workers Union (AWU) had not opposed the RAQ application, having negotiated an agreement with it. The ASU Branch Secretary said:
   [The] proposed changes to retailing hours will have a significant
   effect on the family life and leisure time of thousands of workers
   across southeast Queensland. Many workers in the retail industry
   are angry that the Queensland government is attempting to overrule
   the decision made last year by the independent umpire, the
   Industrial Relations Commission
   ( accessed 5 June 2002).


Much of the literature on consumption tends to assume or locate industrial relations institutions and their connections to political institutions on the periphery of analysis if they are considered at all. Industrial relations analysis has tended to make assumptions about or ignore consumption. The purpose here is to interpret recent decisions in terms of the connections between consumption patterns, working time arrangements and trading hours in order to improve understanding of the tension between markets and institutions.

There is increasing interest in consumption as a basis for values, distribution (particularly of status and power within new hierarchies), and decisions of individuals, groups and institutions. The rise of the 'consumer society' is developing, or descending, into a debate showing few signs of terminating with definite answers to perplexing questions. Some are alarmed and critical of the rise in the level of consumer goods and services. The criticisms may be generalised to include the subservience of sustaining civilised values by transient, socially debilitating, wasteful, polluting and unfair indulgence and greed. These values are perceived to undermine social relations and institutional arrangements, which hold people together and produce an overlapping collectivity of individual liberty balanced by social responsibility.

As Campbell's (1995) history of the sociology of consumption makes clear, much of the discussion is about the social costs of consumption to people and the development of sophisticated techniques of domination which bring it about. Du Gay's (1996) analysis of retailing draws upon material and arguments demonstrating the use of industry restructuring, labour force reorganisation in numerically flexible and cost reducing forms, experiments in market segmentation and techniques for 'getting close to the customer'. He argues that it culminates in an industry struggling for the imagination of the customer. The approaches and techniques seem destined to increase in subtlety, teasing out--a analysis and theory do in exploring and illuminating the terrain of markets--how they nudge and entice and redistribute the costs and benefits to all. In addition, the elevation of consumption has implications for the operation of product markets. Some emphasise the rise in status through conspicuous consumption as having side effects detrimental to legitimate trade. The market for counterfeit products for instance '... exists to supply a worldwide demand for status expressed through the purchase and display of conspicuous goods and services whose total utility and value is measured in terms of perceived social acceptance and prestige' (Mason, 1998: 155).

The reaction against the critique of the consumer society emphasises the role of consumption in extending individual and collective liberty by association or identification with one or more of the expanding social segments catered for by a niche market sellers, the range of choice of available goods and services, the reduction of poverty and redrawing of the line where needs end and wants begin. In some way or other, the shared experience of consumption, and having to shop, may even mean identification of common interests and a common culture which tends to consolidate rather than fragment through mutual recognition of costs, benefits and the uses of goods and services. It is also a reaction against elements of critique which state or imply that consumers of less than sophisticated products which are said to 'enrich' life and derive from value placed upon politics, business, religion, higher education and/or art. Additionally, to the extent that there is an assumption that consumers are not discerning, pragmatic and intelligent in the face of seller manipulation and rational decisions in the absence of manipulation as between different products this is and should be investigated. There appears to be an implication that shopping skills, product knowledge and understanding of personal applications of products are distributed hierarchically according to class, intelligence and education. They are not. The devaluing of such factors is judgmental rather than analytical.

For institutions, policy and decisions (legislated and bargained) unconsciously, implicitly or explicitly take account of the emergence and influence of consumption in contemporary life. It seems reasonable to develop means by which an understanding of consumption is enhanced to improve this web of policy and decision-making. We now turn to a discussion of the relationship between consumption, working time and trading hours arising from the recent trading hours decision in Queensland. In particular, there is a need to explore the costs and benefits and the bearers of these in the relationship between the three factors.

The significance of the recent trading hours decision is that as the latest phase of a two-decade history, the decision reflects a shift in the relationship between market and institutional power. Consumers do not constitute an institution and are not a coherent constituency for any institution in a direct representative sense through membership. However, they have been viewed and nominated as such by those employer associations whose member organisations have them as customers. They are a distinct yet essential group, but not constituency, of unions. The industrial relations institutions negotiate over their own interests and have assumed the existence and continuity of consumers at the end of the production process. In the latest case, the Queensland Labor government chose to base a decision on extended trading hours on its' perception of the existing and future interests of consumers. In other words, the Government believed that consumers were its constituency and that consumption had become a significant factor in the political process of decision-making leading to legislation. This is significant because, by implication, it reduced the relative power of its traditional supporters on the union wing of the labour movement. In this sense, the product market assumed more importance than the labour market.

However, consumers are also employees and union members, so there are multiple constituencies within individuals that must be prioritised when voting. The Lab or government has been persuaded that the consumer constituency took precedence over the employee and/or unionist. To this extent, the traditional emphasis on the roles people play in production has been downgraded.

It needs to be borne in mind that work at its most basic continues to be a means to an end, and the end is consumption. Work need to be undertaken to fund consumption and leisure time, even when consumption does not occur as a part of it. Research has focused on the significance of the employment relationship and work, either inside it or outside it. There has been little emphasis on the consequence of work, namely the use to which the rewards were put. It was assumed that consumption, the other side of the economic equation, either did not significantly influence stratification, or if it did, it was the direct result of the production (and its derivatives, particularly income). If more status, power and wealth were desired, excluding inheritance, it had to come through labour (including the labour involved in generating income from investment).

Along with the benefit of rising affluence associated with labour there have al ways been costs, sometimes in the form of risks. These include time in training relative to working, risking capital in starting a business, health and injury risks in performing work, effort as opposed to leisure/non-work, surrendering of personal and collective forms of relative independence and time, particularly time spent away from friends and family while working. The quid pro quo, again beyond basic needs, is income with which to purchase goods and services for consumption. To be sure this is not so simple. The development of industrial societies not only brings consumer durables, junk things and dangerous forms of entertainment but sophisticated health care systems and protection against natural disaster. While it may be possible to separate these categories of wants and needs, the interaction of different parts of industrialised economies may make it difficult to produce good health care systems without generating production of television programmes, chocolate and professional tennis players with which to trade.

The point at issue here is the extent to which this change in working time patterns is, at least in part, a cost to people in their connected yet temporarily segmented roles as consumers and employees. Although we do not wish to dwell on other costs, these are apparent and yet to be explored in relation to institutions. First, the rise of debt which necessitates compensating macroeconomic policy prescriptions for governments, in part due to the problem of generating sufficient levels of aggregate savings. Consumption is not only funded by household disposable income derived from wages and salaries but also debt. The benefit is consumers do not have to wait to consume through the process of accumulated savings, the cost being interest.

Second, there are a variety of forms of personal costs. The first of these is pressure on people through the work-to-spend cycle to continue to work or work longer, when this results in problems of catering for family circumstances, personal health, and inadequate time away from work. Also, consumption can be the basis for personal relationships and attitudes towards others. In other words, the value placed upon others is measured in economic terms. This moves relationships away from community and towards association. Finally, there are problems of social cohesion when markets are segmented and people develop lifestyles, values and interests which differ substantially from others in the same society and leave less in common.

We now turn to the costs and benefits of consumption in relation to working time. It is possible to examine the role of trading hours in this industry from the perspective of the dimension of consumption and how they (trading hours) relate to what is simultaneously a different form of working time and a different form of shopping time from that which previously existed in the retail industry. In this sense, decisions to extend trading hours to cater for consumers, a presumed benefit, have the consequence of altering working time patterns, a cost for some employees and a benefit for others. At all events, it is the emergence of consumption that may be, in the first instance at least, seen as a cause of a working condition.

The extension of trading hours involves an increase in convenience in when people are able to shop--which can be outside one person's working time but, of necessity inside the working time of another. One person's convenience can be another's inconvenience. To pay for extended trading hours as a consumer requires people when they change roles to producers (workers) to increase working time (in quantum terms), work at different, probably unsocial, hours or increase productivity levels which may involve increased pace. Some will judge this to be an advantage to them while others will not. The SDA submission to the QIRC included the results of a membership survey. 'Approximately 83 per cent of responses stated that the SDA should negotiate the best possible Sunday trading outcomes, primarily around the principle of work on Sundays being a matter of choice for employees' (QIRC, 2001:3, www.qirc.qld. decisions/ 110101 .pdf). The move to less standardised working time arrangements has raised questions about the loss of coordinated family-leisure-community time. This arises when people are at work at differing times so that they cannot use non-work time in collective ways.

To the extent that consumption increases but also changes in terms of the mix of goods and services, so it is necessary to make concessions through work to fund it. Although some consumption is liberating (for example, cars to go travelling) it necessitates a redistribution in terms of time and convenience as between different groups. In other words, there is a consequential change in leisure patterns by some to accommodate the need for others to consume conveniently, so some must serve in order for others to consume at any given point in time. Time is mediated through the employment relationship to determine not only total time available to consumers (trading hours) but also segmented time devoted to each individual consumer by a sales assistant. Time and convenience have to become commodified and quantified in order to be tradable in a marketplace.

Consumption can be work rather than leisure for consumers. 'It's pure drudgery, the bane of most working women's lives. I'm talking food shopping for the family, of course. There are never enough hours in the day. So convenience, choice, quality and service are magnets that draw time-poor people ...' (Courier Mail, 14 January 2002: 9). Costs are apparent for workers and consumers when the coordinates of time intersect and when the time for consumers to shop is relatively short because of other demands on their time. This, in turn, places pressure on workers to respond with increased pace of service.

'The fall in standard working time has been greatly offset by a heightening of the average level of work intensity demanded by the capitalist production process' (Nyland, 1989: 83). Recent studies of work intensification suggest a growing problem for employees and the capacity of unions and tribunals to control and/or compensate employees (ACIRRT, 1999:101-24; Allan, Peetz and O'Donnell, 1999). Heiler argues that hours of work are significant in recent enterprise bargaining. 'This has led to an increase in workload and a return to piecework' (IRSQ, 2002). There is no doubt that in theory increases in the quantum of time worked

and/or the increase in pace increases productivity. Evidence and reasoned argument suggest that the price is to be found in work intensification.


The QIRC decision stated 'we accept that as a general proposition, consumers would like to be able to shop on Sunday. To varying degrees, all research points to this conclusion' (QIRC, 2001:24, Weekend trading may be linked to social attitudes and is '... increasingly offered as family entertainment or recreational activity' (Johnston et al, 2000: 86). Employer and employee claims for working time arrangements to accommodate attitudes to consumption suggest that consumption influences decisions about when to work and when to shop. The dual legislated roles of state tribunals in regulating trading hours to enhance efficiency of product markets on the one and, and regulating conditions of employment, minimising conflict and protecting the relatively weak in labour markets on the other, have become more difficult over the last two decades than previously. Additional difficulties confronting the tribunal system at large emerged with the decentralisation of industrial relations in Australia. Pressures for increased flexibility have resulted in a shift away from standardised working hours with decision-making becoming the responsibility of the parties at the workplace.

Over the last fifteen years in the Queensland state jurisdiction the QIRC and its predecessors have operated under legislation to administer both industrial and trading hours' provisions. The trading hours decisions have been crucial in allowing for greater flexibility in working time arrangements and external numerical flexibility, through clauses in the principal awards to cover casual employment and rates of pay, particularly penalty rates as a form of compensation for the general expansion of forms of flexibility. These arrangements have mainly been the consequence of negotiated outcomes between unions and employer associations in the case of the large stores, and award determinations by the QIRC in the case of small shops. The protection offered by the institutional industrial relations system has principally involved employees. However, the trading hours decisions have reflected the QIRC concern for protecting small shop owners. In the Queensland government's legislation to overturn the QIRC decision, the most likely beneficiaries are the large stores and their customers and the least likely the small shop owners and their employees. Distributional effects vary among other groups between these.

Although an increasing interest is being taken in consumption, in particular the effect of promoting a consumer culture in the retail industry for consumers themselves and the employees who serve them, this article has attempted to address consumption in the context of the prevailing industrial relations institutions. This exploratory research suggests that attempts by institutions to regulate product markets are likely to be increasingly difficult. Indeed, it seems that institutional power relative to market power is likely to be diluted in the search for more efficient product markets. However, the influences of consumption on institutional industrial relations structures and processes and the compromising of labour markets in favour of product market dominance requires much more extensive theoretical debate and research.


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We would like to thank Queensland University of Technology's Faculty of Business Research Initiatives Grant scheme for funding o undertake this research, and the anonymous referees for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Glenda Maconachie

Queensland University of Technology
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Author:Maconachie, Glenda; Sappey, Richard B.
Publication:International Journal of Employment Studies
Geographic Code:8AUQU
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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