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The government of Australia, under Howard, sought to replace the outdated and complex workplace relations with more efficient structures (Kersley et al, 2023). The reforms were intended to deliver world class, user-friendly and modern systems which would have significant benefits for both employers and employees and the entire society in general. For better regulations in business, there was need for reforms in public service relations (Warner, 2016). This retrospect paper seeks to establish the rationale for workplace reforms while assessing the winners and losers after the reforms and also why the Australian workforce would be reluctant in accepting the individual workplace bargaining system.

Rationale for workplace relations reforms: winners and losers

In 2005, the Howard government designed reforms in workplace relations dubbed ‘WorkChoices’. These were amendments to the Workplace Relations Act of 1996 which were effected on 27th of March 2006 (Teicher et al, 2013). The reforms included in the WorkChoices were employment levels improvement together with fostering economic performance nationally. This was to be done through removal of laws in companies that allowed unfair dismissal of their workers and also suggested changing of ‘no advantage test’ that usually left workers disadvantaged after legislation changes (Kersley et al, 2023). These reforms promoted efficiency whereby workers submitted their certified agreements to workplace authority without involvement of industrial relations commission of Australia. This was to ensure that the process for assisting the individual workers was shortened and directly impacted the workers.

In addition, the reforms fostered the ability of workers in a workplace to call for strike legally. In this manner, it sought to allow workers bargain individually for the conditions they want at the workplace (Wright & Lansbury 2014). In so doing, the government was restricting collectivized representation of the workers by trade unions, therefore cutting down on the costs incurred in its labor force.

On the contrary, the reforms were not welcomed by the workers and the campaign was taken up by the opposition which organized a series of campaigns against the bill (Townsend et al, 2013). Through the online campaigns and rallies, they convinced the public that the reforms would be a disaster if implemented. As such the Labor Party, which was then the opposition, got the public favor and won against Howard’s government in 2007. This party then sought to introduce federal system of employment for workers rather than the states- based system. The government then introduced Fair Work Australia to replace the industrial relations bodies that had been created by the previous government (Kersley et al, 2023). The mandate of this body was to ensure that the entry of unions at workplaces was restricted. Conducting of decisions on whether to carry out a strike would be through ballot boxes which were secretive and not open ballots (Wright & Lansbury, 2014). This would have two contradicting implications in that, if the decision for striking did not get enough votes, then there would be no unrest among workers which would imply that order is maintained at workplaces (Freyens & Oslington, 2013). On the other side of the coin, it would be an implication that it would be possible for the results of the secret ballot to be altered in the favor of the employer which would mean that the employees would not get their chance to express their grievances (Warner, 2016).

Moreover, in the proposed reforms by the Productivity Commission, the enterprise contract is likely to allow individuals represent themselves to enterprise without the involvement of unions (Hancock, 2012). The commission describes the minimum wage system setting put in place by the 2009 Fair Wok is justified considering that there is no well-founded employment regulations. Moreover, it recommends that there can be variations in annual wage after conducting a review in exceptional circumstances (Giudice, 2014).

The reform the commission poses is likely to be of essence for the workers in a way that, emigrant workers will be treated fairly by the employers and if the employer underpays them, the employer risks serving the penalty that has been boosted (Freyens & Oslington, 2013). Moreover, the labor firms and employers will face a penalty in case the employees will have industrial action which would inflict high costs on the community.

As discussed by Foster, 2015, the public views such reforms to be just like the ones covered in the workplace amendments that were earlier rejected by the public. The suggestion by this commission regarding individual representation is likely to disadvantage the workers since most of the employers can default in payment of their workers and since there is no union to defend the interests of the workers, it will be a blow to the employees (Gahan & Pekarek 2012). On the contrary, the employers will be on the winning side considering that there will be no much restrictions in termination of employees. This is so because the individual negotiation by worker may not be effective in the labor firm (Bray & Stewart, 2013).

As a matter of fact, the Productivity Commission released a report on the steps in the inquiry by the government in the industrial relations and their productivity. The Inquiry Relations (IR) has the mandate to ensure that there is legislation of workplace productivity which is to be done via enterprise agreements (Hancock, 2012). Under this role, the IR would ensure that inhibitors like flexibility in market demands and capital shift are put under control to ensure productive environments for both employers and employees (Giudice, 2014). Though examination of the existing operations of laws, the IR will ensure that there is a balance in Fair Work laws which will allow the IR explore options for future improvements in relations system at workplaces (Gahan & Pekarek 2012).

Foster, 2015 poses that given such reform comes into effect, the employers stand to gain much from the efforts from the workers since in an effort to increase their productivity, there will be possibility for exploitation of the workers. This would also imply that the employees will have enough problems from their employers like underpayment while being overworked to boost productivity (Bray & Stewart, 2013).

Reasons for reluctance of workers in accepting the individual workplace bargaining system

Australia, unlike many of the countries in Europe, does not have laws governing the agencies conducting the relationship between the host who is the employer and the employee (Wilson et al, 2013). Besides, there are no regulations put in place by either the government or any other private agencies which would serve as intermediaries in matters like limiting the activities employers give to employees and also financial guarantees (Foster, 2016). Due to this, employees in Australia face many problems which has led to their protesting against the implementation of individual workplace bargaining system that has been put in place (Townsend et al, 2013).

Wilson et al, (2013), identifies one of the risks that the wage earning employees have to deal with is in identifying their real employer which is difficult considering there is no legislation put in place. In cases where the real employer is not identified by the employee, one can never establish the authenticity of the job they are given which in turn implies that their payment is not assured (Townsend et al, 2013). In one article by the federal court, it was found out that there was a sham contractor who pretended to be a true employer yet was supplying the workers to another labor agency. This was so in order for the two labor firms to avoid paying their workers overtime (Gahan & Pekarek 2012).

Another risk Australian employees face under individual workplace bargaining is the issue of being liquidated by their employers (Freyens & Oslington, 2013). The employers, since they are not bound by any regulations, in a move to ensure they do not pay money that they owe their employees, they opt to liquidating the employees (Townsend et al, 2013). This is also done by ‘sham contractors’ who underpay their workers deliberately. For example, in a report by Fair Work Ombudsman, it was found out that Baiada Group, which deals in food processing exploits its workers. Another ‘sham contracting’ arrangements by Pizza Hut underpays their delivery drivers by giving them $6 per hour (Wilson et al, 2013). These problems together with many others force the Australian employees to be reluctant in accepting the individual workplace bargaining (Teicher et al, 2013).


Conclusively, the reforms that Howard in Australia did not get to be realized as they were thwarted by the public because they seemed not to take into consideration of the labor force. In its place, the reforms proposed by the Labor Party do not also address the needs of the labor force either (Teicher et al, 2013). This implies that the Australian government has to reach a consensus through collecting views from the labor market through the Inquiry Relations. This will ensure that the reforms favor both the employers and the employees while ensuring that the Australian labor market remains competitive worldwide (Teicher et al, 2013).


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