Corporate IR laws will hit ‘flesh and blood’ workers says legal expert

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Corporate IR laws will hit ‘flesh and blood’ workers says legal expert

National industrial relations laws based on the Federal Government’s Corporations powers will be to the detriment of ‘flesh and blood persons’ - such as employees - who interact with corporations, according to Professor Ron McCallum, Dean of Law at the University of Sydney.

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National industrial relations laws based on the Federal Government’s Corporations powers will be to the detriment of ‘flesh and blood persons’ - such as employees - who interact with corporations, according to Professor Ron McCallum, Dean of Law at the University of Sydney.

‘Laws based upon the corporations power will be centred on corporations,’ McCallum told the  recently held  46th annual convention of the Industrial Relations Society of NSW in Sydney’s Blue Mountains.  

‘Wholesome labour laws seek to balance the rights, duties and obligations of employers and employees as equal legal actors in the processes of work and production,’ McCallum said. 

‘However, general labour laws of broad application which would be required to found a national labour regime, which were enacted in reliance upon the corporations power, could not for long maintain this balance between employers and employees. 

‘In the fullness of time, these labour laws will become little more than a sub-set of corporations law because inevitably they will fasten upon the economic needs of corporations and their employees will be viewed as but one aspect of the productive process in our globalised economy.’ 

Sharing economic power with corporations

McCallum said economic globalisation has increased the fragility of nation states like Australia ‘because they are more vulnerable to the economic pressures of trans-national capital than was previously the case’.   

He said nation states like Australia have to share economic power with corporations and especially with trans-national corporations.   

‘As government coffers shrink in size through cuts in direct and indirect taxation, the social slack is being taken up by the corporate sector,’ he said.   

‘Not only are corporations engaged in Government projects concerning construction and related industries where public private partnerships have mushroomed, but in traditional public sectors like the management of unemployment and social security, and the running of prisons including our immigration detention centres.   

‘If corporate power is further unleashed owing to the reshaping of our labour laws into the image of corporate economic productivity, the corporate sector will obtain a huge increase in power and influence to the great detriment of the Australian nation and especially to the long-term disadvantage of working women and men.’ 

Corporations power shaping laws

McCallum used a ‘playful’ example to illustrate how the corporations power shapes laws enacted in reliance upon it.   

‘Suppose that section 51 of the Constitution contained a head of legislative power enabling the Federal Parliament to make laws with respect to ''men'',’ he said. 

‘This power would uphold laws enabling men and women to enter into, or to dissolve marriages with one another.   

‘These laws would be valid because they related to men specifically, and they would be valid with respect to women because in marrying and divorcing men, women would be engaging in conduct with men.’  

McCallum said that over time we would find that just as marital laws based on a ‘men’s’ power would be unbalanced in nature, so in time would labour laws be unbalanced in a similar manner.   

Argument for one IR system

McCallum said there are strong arguments in favour of the establishment of one truly national labour law regime for Australia with its relatively small population.   

‘Suffice to say that the pressures of economic globalization coupled with advances in information technology, mean that we should work towards developing one national labour law regime in the next decade,’ he said.   

‘However, the problems and inconveniences in having federal and State labour law mechanisms operating simultaneously, is not a major handicap which is slowing down labour productivity. 

‘I venture to believe that the immediate dissolution of our dual labour law mechanisms is not of such an urgent nature which would require the use by our Federal Parliament of extraordinary legislative and constitutional measures.’ 

McCallum said that under our current federal labour laws, any employers  that  are trading or financial or foreign corporations - that is ,  the vast bulk of incorporated employers - may already enter into union and non-union certified agreements or conclude Australian workplace agreements with their employees.   

‘The fact that very many incorporated employers still choose to operate under State labour laws, puts the lie to any urgency in this matter,’ he said. 

Cooperation needed

McCallum said that in his view what is required is cooperation between the Federal, State and Territory Governments to enact one system for all Australian employees.   

‘Federal and state cooperation is by far the best method of bringing about a truly national labour law,’ he said.   

‘Unfortunately, insufficient efforts have been made by either level of Government on this front and Australian employees and business enterprises deserve much stronger efforts in this regard from our politicians.’  

Full speech

McCallum’s speech is on the Industrial Relations Society of NSW website.

Related

One workplace relations system ‘in national interest’ – ACCI 

States preparing legal challenge to fight national IR system 

 

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