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Thematic Issue: Power, Workers and the Law

Reforming Australian Bargaining and Strike Laws to Maximise Worker Power


Anthony Forsyth and Shae McCrystal

Over the past decade, collective bargaining coverage in Australia has declined and workers’ real wages have stagnated despite a tight labour market and rising inflation. This article considers the role of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (‘FW Act’) in reducing worker power in collective bargaining and limiting workers’ capacity to improve their wages and conditions through collective outcomes. The article analyses three features of the FW Act which combine to constrain worker power in bargaining: employer-controlled agreement-making, the enterprise focus of agreements and bargaining, and restricted collective power including a highly attenuated right to strike. The article then considers the changes to these aspects of the FW Act implemented by the Fair Work Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Act 2022 (Cth), explores whether the amendments ensure workers have sufficient power to obtain meaningful outcomes in bargaining, and outlines a number of further necessary proposals for reform.

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