When Labour Lawyers Get Together

Des Moore Write:

As some will already be aware, Workplace Express (WE) is an organisation which publishes daily reports on decisions made by the Fair Work Commission and by courts on workplace relations. It also publishes reports on events where presentations are made on workplace relations issues.

On 22 July WE published reports on the annual labour law conference held at the Hilton in Sydney under the auspices  of the University of Sydney’s Workplace Research Centre.  One of the eleven speakers was Josh Bornstein, a Principal of Maurice Blackburn and a  self-described “employment lawyer”. Bornstein is well-known  as a strong supporter of the regulatory system and as a critic of any who oppose that approach. On this occasion he did not hold back.

Below are the WE report of the speech by Bornstein and of my critique (made after forcing myself to read the full text). WE agreed to publish my critique after I contacted it and pointed out that Bornstein had made an error in his calculation of the increase in productivity over the past year. An AMMA official, Scott Barklamb (just back from a spell at the ILO), apparently also complained to WE about aspects of the Bornstein address and he (Scott) makes some very useful additional criticisms.

Given the current state of our universities, it is not surprising that even though the University of Sydney has a Workplace Research Centre, it appears to have arranged this conference without inviting speakers who advocate a deregulated system. Almost all the speakers appear to be regulator advocates or sympathisers, although the title for this year’s conference  “Beyond ‘Groundhog Day’: Can productivity and fairness be improved without further ‘labour law reform’?” suggests that even those advocates may be thinking it has gone far enough.

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A House Built On Sand

This is a paper presented by HR Nicholls Society Board Member Kyle Kutasi at the 2013 Annual Conference on Recent developments in American Labour Law and what they mean for Australia:

Recent developments in American Labour Law and what they mean for Australia

Thank you once again to the H.R. Nicholls Society for allowing me to present this paper at what is the Society’s 33rd Conference. Who would have thought we’d have made it this far?!

In a large number of areas of law, Australians have a tendency to compare our laws and regulations to those in other parts of the world. Strangely though, few, if any, Australians – including the lawyers and politicians – have any awareness of comparative labour laws.

This paper therefore began life as a basic study in how the United States regulates the employer-employee relationships within its borders. The US is as good a place to start as any other, as its culture and institutions are very similar to ours, and we often follow trends that originated there. What I found in my research is that there are many good reasons for our ignorance of comparative labour law: in many respects, Australia is an ‘island’ with its unique system that makes comparison difficult; but in other ways, there is much that can be learned from our American cousins, few of which bode well for Australia’s industrial future. Read more

Productivity and the Pathway to Success

My letter in Saturday’s Australian (below) contains, naturally, only a limited coverage of developments under Labor in productivity and labour costs.  Although these developments reflect various influences,  there is an important question as to why they did not perform better in circumstances where Labor has continually boasted about the growth in the economy  being in line with trend of 3-3.5% per annum and economic growth also being much better than in most other countries.  The following might be added.

>The graphs attached to Rudd’s address to the Press Club show the changes in economic growth in selected other countries compared with Australia under Labor since the December quarter  2007. The comparison is not on a per head basis. I have not done the per head calculation but it would probably deflate the aggregate comparison favouring Australia by 4-5 percentage points. The graphs also show one year comparisons of budget balances and net debt (including on a per head basis) but no data on employment growth or increases in labour costs.

>During the 11 years the Coalition was in office labour productivity grew at an annual rate of about 2 per cent, much faster than under Labor.

>Labor has frequently boasted about the 900,000 jobs created (sic) during its period in office (recently this seems to have been increased to 1,000,000). But the rate of growth in employment  has averaged much less than under the Coalition – 1.6 per cent per year (now down to 1.3%) compared with 2.7 per cent per year over a similar period of time.

> Under Labor the unemployment rate has increased by 1.8 percentage points. Under the Coalition it fell over a similar period of time by 1.2 percentage points.

>Prima facie the diminishing growth rate in employment, and increase in unemployment, in circumstances where the economy has grown at trend confirms a faulty regulatory system. Indeed, one could equate the diminishing employment growth with the  increasing regulatory growth. Read more

The Changing Industrial Relations Landscape in Australia

The following is a presentation given to the 2013 HR Nicholls Society Annual Conference:

I’d like to take you on a brief journey as we sit as passengers on the bus the Government have put us in.  As we drive through the changing IR Landscape in Australia, peering out through the window with no control over which roads we take, which direction we head or how fast or slow we hit those bumps along the way.  This is how things have looked for businesses and practitioners over the last few years!

There have been many changes to the Australian Industrial Relations system since Kevin Rudd was elected as Prime Minister in 2007.

Firstly the Workplace Relations Act was replaced with the Fair Work Act (‘FWA’).

It took some time for a number of the changes to be tested and for their true impact to be realised.  Unfortunately for the Australian Economy, the impact on business, on jobs, and on productivity, have indeed been realised. Read more

Rudd on the Economy

In yesterday’s Press Club address Prime Minister Rudd rightly argues for policies that lift productivity and improve Australia’s international competitiveness. The address, text attached, contains numerous assertions about what is needed to attain such objectives. But Rudd fails to explain why previous Labor policies did not achieve them and he is short on detail about the policies which Labor will now be able to adopt successfully.

It is, for example, easy to assert that we need “a new approach to the regulatory impost on business from all levels of government”. But how then to now achieve the “one single integrated assessment system” Labor failed to reach? Rudd has apparently discussed (!) this with NSW Premier O’Farrell – but how to get agreement with State and Local governments on a matter that has long been disputed in our federation and in regard to which the Commonwealth itself under Labor has failed miserably, particularly in regard to environment decisions. In short, as Labor has tried and failed already, including under Rudd Part 1, how might it now succeed? Read more

Should we increase Youth Wages?

The Shop Distributive & Allied Employees Association has a television advertisement out at the moment. It features a young girl, Rachel, bemoaning youth rates of pay and urging us to join her in the “fight for fair pay”. Rachel tells us she works hard to pay her way through university and it is just not fair that she does not get paid more. Perhaps a persuasive emotional tale on its own, but it is a misleading one that completely ignores empiricism. Read more

Labor’s Poor Record on Jobs

Below is an extract from an article published on Wednesdays’ AFR opinion page, with the addition of the last half of the article in italics. This analysis has been put together as part of a series of Fact Sheets being published by the HR Nicholls Society in the lead up to the election scheduled for 14 September.

Wednesday’s article addresses the oft repeated claim by the Gillard government  (most notably by Treasurer Swan) that 900,000 jobs have been “created” under Labor. Even leaving aside the question of whether governments create jobs, the analysis below shows that the growth in employment under Labor has been relatively poor when compared with the recent past – certainly nothing to write home about.

Of particular interest is that more Australians are now out of work than during the height of the global financial crisis.

The poor performance of the labour market under Labor undoubtedly reflects in part the increased regulation under the so-called Fair Work legislation and the administration thereof. This regulation, which considerably increases the power of the union movement, will be examined at the conference on “Unions in Control?” being held by the HR Nicholls Society on 8 July at Morgan’s 401 Collins St.  Read more