Research Handbook of Comparative Employment Relations
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Research Handbook of Comparative Employment Relations

Edited by Michael Barry and Adrian Wilkinson

The Research Handbook of Comparative Employment Relations is an essential resource for those seeking to understand contemporary developments in the world of work, and the way in which employment relations systems are evolving around the world.
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Chapter 12: Employment Relations in Australia and New Zealand

Nick Wailes


Nick Wailes INTRODUCTION Australia and New Zealand are almost perfect real world examples of very similar cases. The two countries are former British colonies and developed at similar times and in similar ways. The two share a common heritage of a unique form of labour market regulation, known as compulsory conciliation and arbitration, which played a significant role in shaping industrial relations outcomes in the two countries for much of the twentieth century. However, during the 1980s and early 1990s, significant differences emerged in the labour market policies adopted by governments in these two similar cases. In New Zealand, first under a Labour government and then under a conservative National government, the search for increased labour market flexibility resulted in a dramatic move away from arbitration. This process culminated with the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act (ECA) 1991, a radical piece of legislation that swept away all remaining vestiges of the arbitration system and replaced it with a regime based largely on individual employment contracts. In Australia, during the same period, the Australian Labor government sought to achieve greater labour market flexibility through the existing institutions of arbitration and in cooperation with the labour movement. This apparent divergence in these two very similar countries sparked intense comparative interest. Scholars from both countries exploited the similarities between the two to help them identify the sources of policy divergence. The resulting literature highlighted the causal significance of organizational and institutional factors. Specifically this literature highlighted the role that differences in the...

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