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Worker representation in Australia: moving towards overseas models?

10 Jul 2007

This paper examines how far, and in what ways, overseas systems of worker representation are influencing the Australian debate. After briefly exploring the diminution of legal support for worker representation over the last 15 years, the paper contains a detailed analysis and comparison of recent policy proposals put forward by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the federal Labor opposition. The ACTU policy draws heavily on the United States, Canadian and United Kingdom collective bargaining and union recognition systems, along with North American and (particularly) New Zealand concepts of ‘good faith bargaining’. Key aspects of these overseas systems are highlighted in the paper. In contrast, the ALP industrial relations policy is a substantially diluted version of the ACTU blueprint, involving only minimal ‘borrowing’ from overseas worker representation laws. Importantly, stronger supports for collective bargaining – such as the NZ mechanism for arbitration of bargaining impasses – have been omitted from Labor’s policy. If implemented, this would see the emergence in Australia of a blend of several overseas worker representation models, resulting in some improvement to the current legal framework’s subversion of collective bargaining – but not to the extent desired by the ACTU.

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