With a long standing agenda around the evolution of employer coordination in Australia, conducting research and managing a team of staff as the Head of the Department of Employment Relations and Human Resources is for WOW’s Associate Professor Michael Barry, often a tightrope balancing act.

Having focussed on building the academic literature around the aforementioned in select industries, Michael continues to diversify his endeavours with ongoing projects addressing employee voice, the state of employer-employee relations, and employment relations (ER) in sport. We spent five minutes with Michael to learn a little more about these topical issues.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am part of a team of researchers who are in the very early stages of an Australian Research Council (ARC)-funded project that is looking at what workers and managers see are their concerns and grievances in Australian and American workplaces. Particularly, we are looking at whether both parties perceive these matters in the same way. This will involve designing and administering a big survey of questions around these issues. It is hoped that this project will develop to bring in further project partners in new countries.

I am also working on research that focusses on employee voice; that is, how workers have a say in the workplace.

Finally, I am co-editing and contributing to a book that is looking at sport and business. This field is bucking current trends in ER insofar as we are seeing growth in professional players associations, and more collective bargaining and industrial action is happening around players’ employment conditions.

The book will address a variety of issues, one of them around the economy of sport and business. The control of player drafts and the impact of salary caps on employment conditions is one example. The regulatory models, the labour and employment laws applicable to the industry, and understanding how the business of sport actually works – its source/s of funding, the place of ‘employee voice’ in a labour market where one is restricted as to where they can work, are further considerations. Most topically, the book’s contributors will address the employment implications surrounding occupational health and safety issues and doping in sport.

Are there emerging trends in your field/s of research?

The field of industrial relations (IR) is starting to interface with the organisational behaviour (OB) discipline, which has its own literature on ‘employee voice’, albeit with different views. Looking for differences and overlaps between the OB, ER and HRM (human resource management) literature is a focus.

The whole area of employer associations is also an under-researched one. I am supervising an honours student who is looking at employer associations in the Australian retail sector. This is interesting because of the emerging competition between representatives in this sector.

Concerning sport and business, there is limited interest by ER specialists in this area. It is industry-based people who tend to look at IR issues in sport. My co-editor and I are hoping to develop relationships with industry stakeholders, such as players associations and administrators, so as to further this line of research.

Are there challenges in your field/s in trying to bridge the gap between research, practice and policy?

Employer association research is particularly more closed and it can therefore be more difficult to gain access. In spite of this there is strong interest around identifying how this sector meets the same challenges that employee organisations face.