Power Sharing in Progressive Discipline: New Rules of Engagement Arising from an Australian Perspective

  • John Chelliah University of Technology, Sydney
  • Pitsis Tyrone University of Technology, Sydney


The aim of this exploratory study is to apply the lens of power to the understanding of progressive discipline in Australian workplace contexts. Using data from the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, we analysed the outcomes of 78 unfair dismissal cases across 17 industries over a four-year period (1997-2000). We found that the application of progressive discipline on employees is concentrated around industry and occupational class. Specifically, it shows that occupational classes such as unskilled, skilled, and sales staff are more susceptible to disciplining by employers. It raises the awareness of the immense power the employer derives from the use of progressive discipline over employees and implications in the new environment of on-going labour deregulation and the lack of statutory intervention to ameliorate the growing power imbalance. Given that the research focuses on progressive discipline, the data provides strong grounding for theory building and telling a story on the industrial relations environment where power is becoming increasingly oriented towards employers, especially as union density declines. As such, we hope the simplicity of our research inspires further research that uses more advanced statistical analysis and modelling. The paper has implications for managers/supervisors involved in formulation of progressive discipline policies and for employee advocates who champion employee welfare. It demonstrates that power determines employee performance outcomes, which may not necessarily be in the interest of the employer and to a greater degree the employee. When applying current theory in power, one can challenge the relevance of archaic progressive discipline practices in the context of today’s economic realities. We offer some insights into improving progressive discipline as a tool of managerial control. Our recommendations in this paper will also be relevant to countries with labour legislation and human resource practices similar to Australia such as U.S.A., United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. Keywords: Progressive Discipline, Power, Australian Arbitration, Governmentality

Author Biographies

John Chelliah, University of Technology, Sydney
John Chelliah is a Lecturer in Strategic Human Resource Management, Strategic Management, and Management Consulting at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. He has a PhD in Management from RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. John spent for over two decades working in the field of Management Consulting, Industrial Relations, and Human Resources Management. His research interests and publications are in the area of Human Resource Management and Management Consulting with a special focus on the international environment. John is actively involved in delivering offshore degree programs for UTS at its campuses in China and Indonesia. In the area of executive development, John has delivered customised executive development programs for large Australian and multinational companies. John is the corresponding author and can be contacted at john.chelliah@uts.edu.au
Pitsis Tyrone, University of Technology, Sydney
Dr Tyrone S. Pitsis is senior lecturer in Organizational Behaviour in the Executive MBA at the University of Technology, Sydney. He is also deputy director of the Centre for Management and Organization Studies at UTS. He has a PhD in Management from the University of Technology, Sydney and a psychology degree from the University of New South Wales. He has works published in leading journals such as California Management Review, Organization Science, Organization Studies, as well as best selling books and book chapters on management and organisation theory and leadership, and he is recipient of a number of best papers awards in international conferences. His current research interests are in the positive psychology of leadership in project-based organisations.
How to Cite
Chelliah, J., & Tyrone, P. (2010). Power Sharing in Progressive Discipline: New Rules of Engagement Arising from an Australian Perspective. Contemporary Management Research, 6(2). https://doi.org/10.7903/cmr.2600
Organization Behavior and Human Resource Management

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