The deregulation of the Australian labour market: a workshop in honour of keith hancock

The workshop is being held in honour of Professor Keith Hancock (a former President of the Academy) who has made great contributions to not only academic research on the Australian Labour Market but also to practical aspects of labour market regulation through his role as Deputy President of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC).

The labour market is a vital part of the economy. The economic, institutional and legal forces which act upon it and determine the manner of its operation and outcomes have a profound effect on the economic and social welfare of the community. In recent years, the degree of legal regulation of the Australian labour market has been progressively relaxed and the centralised industrial relations system which had prevailed for many years has been replaced by a decentralised system dominated by enterprise bargaining in which arbitration tribunals play a small part only. It is argued in some quarters that deregulation has not gone far enough and that employers should be given greater freedom from institutional and legal restraints in determining the terms of employment.

The rationale for such argument is often linked to the exposure of the Australian economy to global competition brought about by the deregulation of the Australian financial market and the substantial lowering of Australian trade barriers. These circumstances impose on Australian industry a compelling need to increase productivity if it is to survive and to provide employment and afford higher real wages to its workers. It is further argued that such productivity growth can best be delivered in a highly competitive market with a minimum of restriction on the terms of employment.

Some time has elapsed since the substantial dismantling of the centralised industrial relations system and the exposure of the Australian economy to greater international competition. The time is therefore ripe for a further examination of the various issues relevant to the economic and social outcomes in the operation of the deregulated Australian labour market. A Workshop to this end would provide an opportunity to draw on various experts in this area to deal with these issues.

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