Phillipa Weeks Lecture 2021: The Role of the Courts in Improving Labour Law Compliance

Date & time
6–7pm Tuesday 23 November 2021

Online via Zoom Webinar

Professor John Howe
ANU College of Law

Part of the Annual Phillipa Weeks Lecture series

Professor John Howe

Given each year in memory of the late ANU College of Law Professor, Phillipa Weeks, this annual lecture is delivered by national and international experts highlighting key issues in the area of labour law. In 2021, Professor John Howe (Director of Melbourne School of Government, Director of the Centre for Employment and Labour Relations Law) will be delivering this lecture.

About the 2021 lecture

For more than five years Australia has been experiencing an epidemic of non-compliance with employment standards set by labour law. This epidemic continues behind the eclipse of the COVID 19 pandemic. Statutory reform to increase the sanctions available under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) to address non-compliance has stalled.

To date there has been limited consideration of the important role played by the courts in improving compliance with labour laws as they stand. Some attention has been given to courts’ consideration of employment status, and imposition of penalties. However, in a forthcoming article in the Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, Guy Davidov and Edo Eshet suggest that we need to look beyond employment status and the sanctions imposed by courts as a result of enforcement action – although these issues remain important – to consider other ways that the courts can induce compliance. This approach explicitly acknowledges that there are a range of reasons for non-compliance, not limited to deliberate or calculative wrongdoing. The various ways that courts promote compliance include the procedural steps that can be taken to signal the importance of an issue in a particular case, the courts’ approach to interpretation of statutory provisions, willingness to attribute third party liability, and the remedies ordered.

In this presentation, Professor Howe will argue that the Australian courts are not doing enough to send a message to businesses and the wider public that non-compliance with minimum employment standards is unacceptable. This undermines the efforts of unions and the Fair Work Ombudsman to maximise deterrence in relation to the current laws. In the absence of further reform, the courts in Australia have an obligation to do more to improve future compliance with employment standards.


  • Professor John Howe »

    Professor John Howe is Director of the Melbourne School of Government and Director of the Centre for Employment and Labour Relations Law at the University of Melbourne. John's research interests include labour market policy and regulation, regulatory design, and corporate accountability. He has written extensively on the role of the state in regulating employment and labour markets, and on the intersection between state-based regulation and corporate governance. John is presently engaged in research concerning regulatory enforcement of minimum employment standards and labour dispute resolution in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as investigating labour and other social policy criteria in government procurement policies. John was Secretary of the Australian Labour Law Association between 2005 and 2009, and Chair of the Labour Law Research Network from 2015-2019. He was Deputy Dean of the Melbourne Law School from 2013-2016.


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