Mid-Term Review of Albanese Government’s Labour Policy Reforms

Reforms will make a significant difference, but further progress needed

A review of the Albanese government’s labour and industrial relations reforms at the mid-point of its term in office concludes that the government deserves “positive marks” for several measures taken to strengthen collective bargaining and accelerate wage growth.

That assessment is contained in an article contained in a new special issue of the Journal of Australian Political Economy (JAPE), evaluating the government’s record on a range of issues halfway through its term. The special issue of JAPE was published on 18 December, and was edited by Prof Emeritus Frank Stilwell at the University of Sydney.

The article reviewing the government’s labour policies was co-authored by several staff at the Centre for Future Work, including Greg Jericho, Charlie Joyce, Fiona Macdonald, David Peetz, and Jim Stanford. It considers the impacts of several government initiatives, including:

  • Successive rounds of reforms to the Fair Work Act (including last year’s Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill, and this year’s Closing Loopholes legislation).
  • Several reforms to address gender inequality in workplaces.
  • A more ambitious approach to raising the national minimum wage.
  • Longer-run proposals for attaining full employment, described in the government’s recent White Paper on Jobs and Opportunities.

The authors judge that the government’s labour reforms have achieved an “incremental but significant rebalancing of industrial relations.” They pointed to the acceleration of wage growth in Australia in the last year as evidence that workers have won important bargaining power. Wages are now growing at 4% year-over-year, according to the latest WPI data from the ABS — twice as fast as they did on average over the previous decade, which was marked by the slowest sustained wage growth in the postwar era.

The authors caution, however, that additional reforms are necessary to reverse the erosion of collective bargaining coverage and union membership, and ensure that workers have the bargaining power to improve wages, job security and working conditions.

“On the whole, the Albanese government has made cautious but useful progress on industrial relations and labour issues during its first year. However, it must be acknowledged that the overall labour relations regime in Australia remains heavily skewed in favour of employers,” the authors concluded.

Please see the full article, “Labour Policy,” by Greg Jericho, Charlie Joyce, Fiona Macdonald, David Peetz and Jim Stanford, at the link below. Fiona Macdonald also authored a second article in the special issue, dealing with the government’s reforms to care policies. To see the full collection of articles in the special issue, visit the JAPE website.

Full report