Part of the Annual Phillipa Weeks Lecture series
Debate over Australia’s system of workplace regulation has raged almost uninterrupted since the mid-1980s. Recently lauded by the federal Employment Minister as our own version of Europe’s 30 Years War in the 17th century, the Australian debate began with a critique of the so-called ‘Industrial Relations Club’. Among other ills, the Club’s members – including the federal industrial tribunal, peak union bodies and key employer organisations – were blamed for imposing barriers to higher levels of efficiency and productivity in the nation’s workplaces.
Pressure from the proponents of the IR Club thesis contributed to the adoption of a series of decentralist, than deregulatory, labour law reforms by both Labor and Coalition Governments from 1992 – transforming the traditional conciliation and arbitration system into one based on enterprise bargaining above an award/statutory safety net.
The 30 Years War continues today, with positioning by the Abbott Government, the Labor Opposition, the Greens and Senate cross-benchers over proposed legislative changes – and employers and unions wrangling over the need for further substantive reform. Meanwhile, the Productivity Commission has released its Draft Report on the Review of Australia’s Workplace Relations Framework – finding the system, although not dysfunctional, in need of major repairs.
This lecture will highlight some key moments in the 30 Years War, then focus on the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report and recommendations – and assess the likely twists and turns in the IR debate as we head into the next federal election.
Anthony Forsyth teaches Introduction to the Australian Legal System, Labour Law and Legal Research in the Juris Doctor Program at RMIT University. His research interests cover: Collective bargaining, union recognition and good faith bargaining; Workplace dispute resolution; and Trade unions (with a current focus on the Royal Commission on Trade Union Governance and Corruption); and Comparative labour law. Anthony is also a Consultant with the Corrs Chambers Westgarth's Workplace Relations Group.