In his address as part of the 21st Foenander Lecture, Australian Institute of Employment Rights (AIER) Advisory Committee member Joe Issac explores the place of the WorkChoices legislation within the framework of an economically efficient and socially fair industrial relations system.

My first exposure to industrial relations was as a student at this University in the early 1940s when I did a subject then known as Industrial Organisation. Orwell de Ruyter Foenander gave some half-a-dozen lectures on industrial relations in this subject. These were focused on the role of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court, one of the predecessors of the present Australian Industrial Relations Commission. As an academic subject, industrial relations was in its very early infancy, and Foenander was the most distinguished of the pioneers. He wrote many books and papers on the subject and was appointed first head of the Department of Industrial Relations in 1955. This Department ultimately transmogrified into the present Department of Management and Marketing. My interest and career in industrial relations owe much to his writings and my close association with him. It is, therefore, a very special honour and pleasure for me to be giving this lecture.

The substance of most previous Foenander Lectures has been in the nature of a review of the contemporary Australian industrial relations system. I propose to do the same on what is perhaps the most momentous change in the system in 100 years. The significance of the question mark in the title of the Lecture is that the word ‘reform’ used in the promotion of the WorkChoices legislation, is a loaded term, suggesting ‘improvement’. You will see from what I have to say that this questionable.

Let me begin by posing a number of questions that underlie my paper: What can reasonably be said to be the requirements of an economically efficient and a socially fair industrial relations system? How important is the legislative framework for such a system? To what extent does the WorkChoices legislation meet the requirements of such a system?

Download the full paper