The passage of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (Workplace Relations Act) and the further reforms implemented by the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Act 2005 resulted in significantly increased concerns for Australia’s compliance with its international obligations under the ILO’s fundamental conventions. Since 1997, there has been an ongoing process of dialogue between the Australian government and the ILO’s supervisory bodies over compliance issues.
The ILO’s supervisory bodies have been concerned that Australia’s efforts to protect freedom of association and encourage and promote collective bargaining (Conventions Nos. 87 and 98) fall short of the standards required by these fundamental conventions. The lack of progress towards equal remuneration has also been a concern. More specifically, aspects of the Workplace Relations Act which have given rise to concerns are those provisions which: give primacy to individual over collective forms of agreement; restrict the level at which bargaining can occur; limit what may be included in a collective agreement; raise the potential for anti-union discrimination; place limitations on trade unions’ rights to organise; and impose limits on strike action beyond those envisaged by Convention No. 87.
This paper outlines the ILO’s concerns and examines future prospects, including by assessing relevant Australian Labor Party (ALP) and Australian Greens’ policy commitments. It concludes that while not without compliance issues, the ALP policy would appear to address a significant number of key areas of concern. The Greens’ policy commitments suggest that they will seek to pressure the Labor Government to address the remaining areas of concern in relation to international obligations.