Date of Award

2000

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Jan Ryan

Abstract

The Westrail Midland Workshops had serviced the Western Australian Government Railway fleet for 90 years when they were closed by the Court Government in 1994. As the State's largest and best equipped industrial establishment employing over 900 workers, the announcement of the closure was unexpected and controversial. The research questions asked in this thesis are: Why did the Workshops close? What were the economic and political issues involved? What attempts were made to modernise the Workshops and improve efficiency, and what were the social and economic effects on the workers? The event took place at a time of changing ethos related to public enterprise, which was manifested in the privatisation of government services and assets. The research was therefore contextualised within the theoretical framework of economic rationalism. The study draws on secondary sources mainly for research related to economic rationalism and the social impact of voluntary redundancy and unemployment. The major part of the evidence supporting this thesis is drawn from Parliamentary debates, Westrail documents and a broad range of primary sources, which include a questionnaire and oral testimony from people who had been closely associated with the Workshops. A study of the history and development of economic rationalism reveals its inexorable progress in Australia and its influence on governments in their dealings with the public sector, including Westrail. It also shows the commercialisation of Westrail which gathered pace in the 1980s, dictated significant shedding of employees and saw the outsourcing of increasing amounts of its work to the private sector. A central focus of the thesis is the evidence of the steps taken, particularly during the 1980s and early 1990s to upgrade and rationalise the Workshops, eventually achieving Quality Assurance Accreditation and workplace reform with the co-operation of the workforce and the Unions. The study reveals the problems stemming from the "Dickensian” culture began to change when occupational health and safety legislation forced the establishment of a consultative process between management and the workers. Despite the progress that had been achieved in structural changes and m the human resources at the Workshops, the newly elected Government broke an election promise and closed the establishment. The research found no evidence of any serious attempt by Westrail or the Government to pursue other options than the closure or to market the Workshops capacity and skills. Nor was the Government able to provide detailed financial data to justify its decision, either before the closure or subsequently. Oral evidence attested to the damaging social and economic impact on the employees and their families caused by this political act. The findings bring under scrutiny the ideological processes dedicated to the reduction of the government sector.

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