‘Power, Workers and the Law’
The UNSW Law Journal is currently welcoming submissions for the thematic component of Issue 46(4), which is ‘Power, Workers and the Law’.
Australian workers’ collective power has dwindled over the past few decades. Union density in Australia decreased from 40% of employees to 14% from 1992 to 2020, despite workers facing increasing precarity due to factors including stagnating wages, job instability in casualised work, and the gig economy’s expansion. Workers and unions are regulated by an industrial relations legal regime which has been criticised by the International Labour Organization for falling short of international labour rights standards.
However, union activity has recently attracted media attention. Internationally, unionisation efforts at Amazon warehouses and Starbucks workplaces have been successful; while in New South Wales, public sector unions like the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, the Nurses and Midwives Association, and the Teachers Federation have taken disruptive industrial action in 2022. Furthermore, the Albanese Labor Government announced ‘immediate’ reforms to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (‘FW Act’)at its Jobs and Skills Summit in September 2022, including the introduction of multi-employer agreements and the modification of the Better Off Overall Test during enterprise bargaining.
In light of the recent surge of union activity and federal proposals to reform the FW Act, Issue 46(4) intends to publish submissions demonstrating a substantial connection to Australian labour, employment, and industrial relations law. While the Journal particularly encourages submissions examining collective labour law (eg, concerning trade unions, collective bargaining, industrial action), it also invites contributions which generally examine the law’s influence upon workers’ collective and individual power, agency, and vulnerability, as well as the future of work in Australia in light of increasing automation and gigification.
In writing submissions, authors may wish to explore the following issues. However, authors are not limited to these areas of law and are encouraged to draw upon their own areas of expertise.
Industrial Relations Law
- The Albanese Labor Government’s proposed reforms to the FW Act, and their likely impact upon enterprise bargaining.
- Provisions in the FW Act which regulate industrial action (eg, pre-strike ballots, good faith bargaining requirements).
- The extent to which legislative reform can strengthen bargaining power, considering the overall decline in union membership density.
- Legislative reform proposals which confer or strengthen collective bargaining rights for vulnerable workers, including independent contractors, gig workers, temporary migrant workers etc.
Trade Union Regulation
- Long-term impacts of the 2015 Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.
- The Albanese Labor Government’s plans to shut the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and the appropriateness of the Fair Work Ombudsman to take over its role.
Legal Profession and Industry
- Comparative studies between unionisation in Australian legal workplaces, and international legal workplaces. For example, the Aotearoa Legal Workers’ Union formed in New Zealand in February 2019, and legal aid criminal barristers in England and Wales voted to escalate industrial action to an indefinite strike in August 2022.
- Barriers or enablers to unionisation in Australian legal workplaces.
- The effectiveness of professional associations (eg, NSW Law Society) in addressing lawyers’ working conditions.
- Sex worker agency between jurisdictions which criminalise sex work (Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia), license sex work (Queensland, Tasmania, Australian Capital Territory), decriminalise sex work (New South Wales and Northern Territory), or decriminalised work and introduced anti-discrimination protections to protect people from discrimination on the basis of their profession (Victoria).
- Criminalisation of wage theft, and the efficacy of such laws.
- The use of strict contractual interpretation to determine employment status, as adopted by the High Court in Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union v Personnel Contracting Pty Ltd (‘CFMEU’) and ZG Operations Australia Pty Ltd v Jamsek (‘Jamsek’), and how an employment relationship may be correctly interpreted where the contract is unclear.
- The impact of CFMEU and Jamsek upon the power dynamic between employers and employees, particularly vulnerable workers like gig workers.
- The role of unions as an exemplar of social movements, and the position of social movements and civil society actors in our legal system.
The submission deadline for the thematic Issue 46(4) is 31 March 2023, with publication set for late November 2023. Any changes to these deadlines will be updated on the Journal’s website.
Submissions should be between 7,000 and 13,000 words in length, excluding footnotes. The style guide for the Journal is the fourth edition of the Australian Guide to Legal Citation, as supplemented by the latest edition of the Journal’s ‘Additions’, which is available on our website.
The Journal is an independent, peer-reviewed publication. While publication is subject to peer review, publication decisions remain at the Editor’s discretion, in counsel with the Executive Committee of the Journal. The Journal does not publish articles that have been, or will be, published elsewhere, either in identical or substantially similar form. Please contact the Journal at email@example.com if you are interested or have queries about submitting for Issue 46(4).
If you intend to submit an article, it would be greatly appreciated if you could please provide some early indication of your proposed topic or area of research. We strongly encourage you to pass this call for submissions to any colleagues, research networks or organisations who may be interested in making a submission.
Editor, Issue 46(4)