No Choices: Australia's Unions Confront Labor Law "Reform"

By Matthews, Graham | Multinational Monitor, July-August 2006 | Go to article overview

No Choices: Australia's Unions Confront Labor Law "Reform"


Matthews, Graham, Multinational Monitor


ON MARCH 27, Australia's new labor law, known as Work Choices, went into effect.

On March 31, Rhonda Walke, a medical receptionist in Sydney with more than 20 years employment at a small doctor's office, was fired. Her offense: seeking to negotiate the terms of a new contract her employer sought to impose. Under Australia's old labor rules, Walke would have been able to win reinstatement. Under Work Choices, because the doctor's office employs fewer than 100 workers, she is out of luck--unfair dismissal provisions don't apply.

"I had a job where I could walk to work and I wanted to talk to them about what the new terms would mean." Walke told Workers Online, the official publication of Unions NSW, the labor council of the Australian state of New South Wales.

"I wanted to talk to the employer but I didn't even get the opportunity. I was given the new conditions on Wednesday and, about 12:15 today (Thursday), I was sacked by the office manager.

"I feel I have been unfairly dismissed, because I have done nothing wrong. Why should all my conditions change, after 20 years, without any discussion?"

Passed through Parliament on December 2, 2005 and proclaimed as law on March 27, Work Choices is an amendment to the Workplace Relations Act (WRA), a package of industrial "reforms" passed by the Australian federal Liberal-National (conservative) Coalition government in 1996. Like Work Choices, that original package aimed at restricting workers' rights and weakening the power of unions. It is part of the ongoing effort by Australian governments--Labor and Liberal--over the last 25 years, to increase profitability by lowering the cost of labor.

During its campaign for re-election in November 2004, the Coalition government failed to divulge its plans for a second-wave of industrial relations legislation. It fought the campaign mainly on the promise of keeping interest rates low, mixed with an emphasis on its support for the U.S.-led "war on terror." It was only after the election, in which the Coalition received the unexpected windfall of control of both houses of Parliament--meaning that it could pass any legislation unamended--that it began to talk up the need for further industrial reform.

A HISTORY OF "REFORM"

Work Choices has delivered to big business much of e labor "flexibility" that it has sought for the last 10 years of Coalition government. In early 1996, prior to the election of the government of Prime Minister John Howard, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) helped draft the Coalition's industrial relations policy document, Better Pay for Better Work. This policy document, which argued for the elimination of unfair dismissal laws, the implementation of individual contracts and the scrapping of the Australian system of regulating conditions of work, was implemented in part in the passing of the Workplace Relations Act.

Before 1996, Australia relied heavily on a system of industrial "awards," where the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) established minimum conditions for specific industries on a range of wage and work rule issues. The 1996 Workplace Relations Act stripped back allowable matters in industrial awards to 20. It reestablished the fight of employers to sue unions for damages relating to solidarity actions ("secondary boycotts"), and restricted the fight of union officials to enter workplaces. It also introduced Australian Workplace Agreements--individual contracts that could override industrial awards or company-wide collective bargaining agreements. The only stipulation was that the AWAs were required to satisfy a "no general disadvantage test," whereby a worker who signed an agreement would not be made worse off overall than if still covered by the award. The WRA also introduced a range of fines that could be levied on unions that defied AIRC orders.

In their submission to a Senate inquiry into the implementation of the WRA held in May 1996, the ACCI gave a glowing endorsement to the bill, calling it "another step towards the sort of employment laws that ACCI has been arguing for.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

No Choices: Australia's Unions Confront Labor Law "Reform"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.