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History of Australia’s Systems of Employment Relations

The history of the system of employment relations in Australia dates back as early as 1901. Section 51 of the 1901 Commonwealth Constitution of Australia provides for the federal Parliament to legislate in the area of “conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State”. The Attorney-General’s Department was established on this year on the first day of January and given the responsibility of administering industrial law matters until 1940 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 1 of 1 January 1901, p.

4). In 1902, the Public Servic...

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...e Act establishes federal public service. Two years after (1904), the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration was established by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 [PDF 1. 6MB]. (1986 version). After another four years (1908), the Harvester judgment, Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, by Mr Justice Higgins, establishes basic wage (Ex Parte HV McKay, (1907) Commonwealth Arbitration Reports, vol. 2, p. 1+). It was in 1916 that the Eight Hours Act (NSW) reduces working hours in NSW from 60 to 48 hours in a 6 day week.

Queensland legislates for equal pay for women for equal work (Industrial Arbitration Act 1916 (Qld), s. 8). In reality it was rarely enforced until the 1990s. After three years (1919), the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration raises minimum wage for women to 54% of the national basic wage for men (Federated Clothing Trades v. J. A. Archer (Clothing Trades’ Case), (1919) Commonwealth Arbitration Reports, vol. 13, p. 647+). After a year (1920), the Report of the Royal Commission on the Basic Wage (Chair: A. B. Piddington) (Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers, 1920-21, vol. 4, pp.

529-645) was released. In 1925, Queensland became the first state to reduce the 48 hour week to 44 hours (Industrial Arbitration Act Amendment Act 1924 (Qld), commences 1925). In December 10, 1928, the Department of Industry was established (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No 136, 13 December 1928) as part of the Attorney-General’s Department to be responsible for industrial matters. The staff positions of the Department were abolished in 1932 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 60, 11 August 1932) and the Dept superseded by the Dept of Labour and National Service in 1940.

It was in 1935 that the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration grants one week’s annual paid leave to printing industry ((1936) Commonwealth Arbitration Reports, vol. 36, pp. 738-882). While in 1938, the NSW Industrial Commission reduces hours of NSW coal miners from 48 to 40 hours per week In 1940, the Department of Labour and National Service was established on 28 October 1940, replacing the Department of Industry (established 1928), a Dept which had been inactive, all its positions having been abolished in 1932.

The necessity for the Dept arose from the likelihood of industrial disputation, which could disrupt the flow of war materials and essential services necessary for the war effort. The Dept was designed to draw together in one unified organisation all issues of labour supply and labour relations. (Executive Council Meeting No. 112 (Prime Ministers Department Minute No. 151), 28 Oct 1940) After four years (1944), the Annual Holidays Act 1944 (NSW) provides for 2 week’s paid annual leave (commences 1945). A year after (1946), the Commonwealth Employment Service established by the Re-establishment and Employment Act 1945.

Three years after (1947), the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration approves 40 hour week to take effect 1 January 1948 (Standard Hours Inquiry, (1947) Commonwealth Arbitration Reports, vol. 59, p. 581-617) In 1950, the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration sets female rate of pay at 75% of male rate (Basic Wage Inquiry 1949-50, (1950) Commonwealth Arbitration Reports, vol. 68, p. 698+). Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act changed to Conciliation and Arbitration Act (Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1950, no. 20)

The following year (1951), the NSW Industrial Commission introduces paid sick leave and paid long service leave. In 1956, as a result of the Boilermakers case (R v. Kirby and others; ex parte the Boilermakers’ Society of Australia (1955-56) vol. 94 Commonwealth Law Reports p. 254-346) in which the High Court held that it was unconstitutional for the Arbitration Court to be vested with both arbitral and judicial powers, the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1956 splits Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration into 2 bodies: Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, and Commonwealth Industrial Court

In 1963, the Commonwealth Industrial Court adopts 3 weeks annual paid leave 1966 Commonwealth Public Service removes bar to married women (Public Service Act (No. 2) 1966). In 1969, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission rules equal pay for women (Equal Pay Case 1969, (1969) Commonwealth Arbitration Reports, vol. 127, p. 1142+). To be phased in over 4 years, culminating in 1972 In 1971, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission awards coal miners a 35 hour week, extended to waterside workers in 1973 and oil industry workers in 1974.

After a year (1972), equal pay for women was established in Commonwealth Public Service (see 1969 above). Arbitration Commission adopts the principle of equal pay for work of equal value regardless of the sex of the worker (National Wage and Equal Pay Cases, 1972-1973 Commonwealth Arbitration Reports, vol. 147, pp. 172-181). The Department of Labour was created on 19 December 1972, by Executive Council Minute (Public Service Board Minute, No.

47, 19 December 1972) replacing the Dept of of Labour and National Service (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No 129A, 19 December 1972). In 1973, the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1973 renames the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and Commonwealth Industrial Court as the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and Australian Industrial Court 1973 First paid maternity leave granted to federal public servants (Maternity Leave (Australian Government Employees) Act 1973)

In 1974, the Department of Labour and Immigration was created on 12 June1974 by Executive Council Minute (Public Service Board Minute) No 39 of 12 June 1974), replacing the Dept of Labour (Australian Government Gazette, No 48B, 12 June 1974, p 1) In 1975, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission introduces wage indexation tied to increases in the CPI (National Wage Case, (1975) Commonwealth Arbitration Reports, vol. 167, pp. 18-47). The Department of Employment and Industrial Relations was created on 22 December 1975 replacing the Department of Labour and Immigration (Australian Government Gazette, No S262, 22 December 1975).

In 1978, the Department of Industrial Relations and the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs were established on 5 December 1978 by Executive Council Minute, replacing the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No S267, 5 December 1978). After a year (1979) Conciliation and Arbitration Commission introduces one year’s unpaid maternity leave (Maternity Leave Test Case (1979) Commonwealth Arbitration Reports, vol. 218, p. 120+)

In 1981, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission ceases wage indexation tied to increases in the CPI, introduced in 1975 (National Wage Case, (1981) Commonwealth Arbitration Reports, vol. 250, pp. 79-96) In 1982, the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations [II] was created on 7 May 1982 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No S91, 7 May 1982). It inherited all functions from the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs and from the Department of Industrial Relations In 1985, Report of the Committee of Review into Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems (Hancock report) was published.

Its recommendations relating to reform of the arbitration system lead to the Industrial Relations Act 1988 (Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers, 1985, vol. 17, paper no. 236) In 1987, the Department of Industrial Relations [II] was established on 24 July 1987 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No S 183, 24 July 1987) In 1988, the Industrial Relations Act replaces Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission with Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 repealed by Industrial Relations (Consequential Provisions) Act

In 1993, the Industrial Relations Reform Act promotes enterprise bargaining and establishes the Industrial Relations Court of Australia. While in 1996, the Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Act passed. It changes the name of the Industrial Relations Act to the Workplace Relations Act, enforces voluntary unionism, provides for non union contracts between employers and workers and for individual contracts (Australian Workplace Agreements). It also transfers jurisdiction of the Industrial Relations Court to other courts, mainly the Federal Court

In 1997, the Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business was established on 18 July 1997 replacing the Dept of Industrial Relations (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No S295, 22 July 1997). After one year (1998), the Commonwealth Employment Service (established 1946) was replaced by Centrelink (Commonwealth Services Delivery Agency Act 1997). Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business was established on 21 October 1998 replacing the Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business

In 1999, the Public Service Act 1902 is repealed and replaced by Public Service Act 1999. A separate Parliamentary Service Act covers parliamentary department staff 2001 Australian Catholic University is first employer to provide 1 year’s paid maternity leave (Agreement A1084, part 9 [available through WAGENET]); Department of Employment and Workplace Relations was established on 26 November 2001 replacing the Dept of Employment and Industrial Relations (Administrative Arrangements Order, Commonwealth of Australia Special Gazette No.

S 468, 26 November 2001) In 2005, the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Act 2005 rewrites the Workplace Relations Act, establishes the Australian Fair Pay Commission and uses the corporations power to extend individual workplace agreements and override State legislation dealing with workplace relations within corporations In 2006, the High Court challenge to the Work Choices legislation by all the states and territories (Employment Law, 2008).

The Court decides that the Commonwealth has the constitutional power to legislate for the employees of corporations. The Australian Fair Pay Commission announces its first minimum wage decision (October). Department of Employment and Workplace Relations renamed Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (Special Gazette 4/12/07)III. The Operation, Structure and Effectiveness of Australia’s System of Employment

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