The Death of Collective Bargaining? The Regulation of Work in Post-Pandemic Digital Australia


It looks and feels very much as if the economy has returned to recovery mode after this winter’s Delta disruption. The various forecasters differ a bit about the timing of the rebound, but they have in common the view that we are likely to have once again regained the lost ground by the middle of 2022.

While we may well see a return to aggregate levels of activity, no one is thinking that we just pick up where we left off. In particular the pandemic has accelerated major changes that, before the pandemic, had already begun to reshape work and workplaces.  Despite the acceleration of these processes, we should be wary of thinking that we are near the end of these changes. It is more likely that we’ve let a genie out of the bottle.

Another point about the recovery is that we should be very wary of thinking that it’s a destination that we should be particularly pleased about. Getting back to where we were in, say December 2019, is hardly a stretch ambition. For several years prior, our economy had been beset by low productivity growth, low business investment and low real income growth outside of the mining and finance sectors. 

These outcomes were not unrelated to the fact that enterprise bargaining too was struggling before the pandemic. Fast forward the next part of two years and it faces even more challenges in being relevant to the changing workplaces of today and the future.

There is still hope for Australia’s enterprise bargaining system but action is needed without delay. Otherwise, the system will continue to ‘wither on the vine’.

Australia needs an enterprise bargaining system that recognises the flexibility that both employers and employees need, and that drives productivity improvement at the enterprise level. Productivity improvement is the pathway to delivering real wage increases to employees.

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