Industrial relations reform is a topical subject, which has important political, economic and social implications for Australia. This workshop will critically examine the recent history of industrial relations reform, based on research evidence, and will discuss the major policy issues, which are facing governments, employers, trade unions and employees now and in the future.  It is intended that the research findings discussed at the workshop will influence the debate on industrial relations reform. The findings of both the Productivity Commission review as well as the Royal Commission into trade unions should have been released during the coming year and the issue of industrial relations reform will be of considerable public interest.

The aims of this workshop are to examine critically the recent history of industrial relations reforms and to analyse the major policy issues facing government, employers, trade unions and employees arising from current policy proposals for further reforms to the system.  It is intended that the papers presented by leading social scientists, and then discussed by both academics and  practitioners, will have a significant impact on policy debates as well as the current and future practice of industrial relations in Australia.

The workshop will begin with an historical analysis of past industrial relations reforms with a paper by Keith Hancock, who chaired a Committee of Inquiry into Industrial Relations Law and Systems for the Hawke Labor government in the 1980s and later served as a Senior Deputy President of the federal industrial relations tribunal. This session will be followed by an analysis of legislative reforms by the Howard Coalition government, which sought to extend the decentralisation of the industrial relations system, which was initiated by the Hawke Labor government.

The more radical elements of the Work Choices legislation contributed to the defeat of the Howard government. As Industrial Relations Minister, and later as Prime Minister, Julia Gillard reversed some of the Howard government’s reforms and introduced some novel aspects such as national employment standards and modern awards. However, the retained prohibition on pattern bargaining and some other measures discouraged a complete return to the former system.

The political dimensions of industrial relations reform will be discussed in a paper by Rae Cooper and discussed by leading representatives of a major employers’ association and one of Australia’s largest unions.  A former senior member of the federal tribunal will moderate this session and also participate in the discussion of how political and ideological agendas influence industrial relations reform.

Four key policy issues in industrial relations will be discussed in the workshop with papers by experts in each of these fields as well as discussants who have strong research backgrounds and experience working in government as public policy advisers or practitioners with employers’ associations or the union movement.

First, the role of women in the workforce and family-related issues such as paid parental leave and flexibility will be discussed in a paper by Marian Baird, who has been a leading researcher as well as a commentator on policy issues in the public domain. Second, proposals for changes to collective bargaining and dispute resolution will be examined by Mark Bray and Johanna Macneil, who have undertaken extensive research on these issues. Third, the debate on wages and productivity will be analysed by Sue Richardson, who has researched this issue as well as serving on the Minimum Wage Panel of the Fair Work Commission. Finally, the critical policy issue of immigration and skills will be examined by two early career researchers, Chris Wright and Damien Oliver, who have undertaken considerable research on this issue not only in Australia, but also in the UK and Germany.

Some of the key questions which the workshop will address include:

• What can be learned from past experience with attempts to reform the industrial relations system?

• What were the key impacts of recent legislative reforms from the Howard government’s ‘Work Choices’ to the      Rudd/Gillard government’s ‘Fair Work Australia’?

• How does politics influence proposals for industrial relations reform: employer and union perspectives?

• What are the key elements of required reforms relating to women, work and family issues facing Australia?

• How have approaches to collective bargaining and dispute settlement changed and what is needed for the future?

• How are wages and productivity affected by changes in the industrial relations system?

• What are the current and future issues facing Australia in relation to immigration and skills development?

The workshop will also provide an opportunity to celebrate the outstanding long-term contribution which Joe Isaac has made not only to academic scholarship but also to the practice of industrial relations in Australia through his various roles in the federal tribunal.

For more information, please contact:
Mrs Nurdan Kulluk-Rennert
Manager, Executive and Workshops
Nurdan.Kulluk-Rennert [at]
+61 .2 62491788