For the first time in over a decade industrial relations is a key policy battleground in the federal election.

Much of the space is occupied by the ALP’s policy agenda, in part responding to the ACTU’s ‘change the rules’ campaign. In particular, Labor has committed to:

  • stronger regulation of casual work and labour hire;
  • enable the Fair Work Commission to set a ‘living wage’;
  • provide more scope for industry-level bargaining for low-paid employees; and
  • reverse the FWC’s 2017 cuts to penalty rates.

The Coalition Government has had less to say, reinforcing its commitment to the present framework and in particular the regulatory checks it has introduced to curb union power. These include the Registered Organisations Commission, and the Australian Building and Construction Commission and federal building code.

The debate over workplace reform is, of course, a long-standing one. We provide some historical context here, tracing the development of Australian labour regulation from the initial shift away from centralised wage-fixing under the Keating Labor Government in the early 1990s through to the present system and the key reforms being proposed by the ALP. This document also places the ACTU’s reform agenda on industry bargaining, union rights in bargaining and industrial action in historical perspective.

We also provide here an outline of the probable timeline for implementation of Labor’s IR policy if it wins office at the May 18 election. We highlight the reforms that Labor would seek to implement within its first 100 days of government, and the reform process over the 6-24 months beyond that.