University of Technology, Sydney

Project Description

WorkChoices reforms

Project Abstract

The new Industrial Relations (IR) reform package, WorkChoices, which officially began on the 27th of March 2006 foreshadowed significant change in Australian�s industrial relations system. Though, the new changes are merely an amendment to the previous Workplace Relations Act 1996, the change is nevertheless radical. Australia for most of the twentieth century has conducted under the �arbitral� IR system, which is contrary to most of the world (Peetz 2005b). In 1996, following the federal election victory, the Howard government introduced Workplace Relations Act 1996, with some compromise in agreement with the Democrats for the passing of the Bill. However, following the 2005 election, the Howard government were able to gain the Senate majority, hence allowing them to follow the path of further reforms by enacting WorkChoices. The envisions of the government through these changes are to make Australia more competitive globally, through labour market deregulations to allow employers and employees the flexibility to negotiate terms and conditions of employment without the assistance of a third party, generally the union (Plowman and Preston 2005). The objectives are to create more jobs and increase the overall standard of living for Australian workers (Nassif and van Barneveld 2003). Despite the fact that unionism is not illegal, WorkChoices seems designed with the detriment of unionism in Australia, this is highlighted by the Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) � registered individual contracts (Grozier 2001). Previous experiences in New Zealand, Victoria and Western Australia have all indicated that the path of market deregulations and individual contracting will increase the inequality in the wage, the decline in union density, the �choice� and �flexibility� individual contracts are merely theoretical rhetoric, especially for the lower spectrum labour market (McLaughlin 2000; Plowman and Preston 2005; Rasmussen et al. 2000; Watson 2001). It is unambiguous that these three experiences demonstrate the �vulnerability� and lack of protection without the award �safety nets� and market regulations. Another dire consequence for employee is the growth of managerial discretion in negotiating terms and conditions, the �flexibility� and �choice� rhetoric emphasised by the government seem specifically aimed at employers. This paper aims to examine the previous empirical and analytical research in the field of IR within Australia and compare the intended reforms with previous experiences. More specifically, this paper explores the new industrial relations landscape with particular relevance given to the implications of the roughed terrain for both employers and employees.

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