At its heart, industrial relations law is about people, and their ability to earn an income, support a family and take greater responsibility for their own lives.
In other words, employment is not about what we do – but who we are. Through work we build relationships that enrich us, skills which develop us, and ideas that define us. Anything that makes it harder for us to work is a barrier to human flourishing.
As Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has argued: ‘There is nothing more important to someone’s self-esteem than feeling like they are of value to others, and there is no better way to achieve that than through paid employment…’
For too long now, the workplace relations policy debate in Australia has been framed by arguments about the rights and privileges of unions, employer organisations, institutions, and even governments.
Australia needs a legal framework that recognises the differences that exist between people, workplaces, forms, hours and locations of work, and that puts the interests of people before the interests of institutions.
Employment law should also seek to provide opportunities to help get unemployed people back into work, be flexible enough to encourage people to stay, and responsive to changing circumstances in businesses and the wider economy. Freedom to Work and Freedom to Hire are concepts not heard often enough in the modern workplace relations context.
Stephen Sasse has had a successful 30 year career in employee relations, human resources and occupational health and safety, at some of Australia’s leading companies.
In his occasional paper: Your Right to Work: The Employment Policy of a Truly Liberal Government, he has challenged some of the myths that underpin the current system, summarised its history and evolution, and set out a detailed and thoughtful two-step reform program.
His immediate recommendations address some of the major problems with the current Fair Work Act including encouraging greater agreement flexibility, narrowing the scope for lawful industrial action and union right of entry laws, and allowing employees to take home more of their own pay.
Importantly, his vision for long term reform includes removing the distinction between employment and independent contracting, institutional renewal by abolishing the Fair Work Commission while strengthening the Fair Work Ombudsman, and consolidating existing workplace safety nets by abolishing the award system and removing the ‘social component’ from the minimum wage paid by employers.
Stephen’s paper adds to the considerable body of IPA research in this area over recent years, including on the minimum wage, structure of the workplace system, role of institutions and lack of competition.
The implementation of a truly liberal employment policy should be an urgent priority for Australian policy makers.