Employment law expert slams business leaders for peddling industrial relations myths

23 October 2013
Australian business and sections of the media are responsible for an abysmal standard of debate on industrial relations than occurs ‘without any scientific, factual or empirical basis”, according Josh Bornstein, one of Australia’s leading workplace lawyers.

In a hard-hitting speech delivered today in Canberra to the AIG national personnel and industrial relations conference, Mr Bornstein, head of employment law at Maurice Blackburn used the examples of unfair dismissal laws, individual employments contracts and productivity to show that business commentators, employer groups and the ‘old media’ were highly selective in the evidence they use to argue their case.   

Mr Bornstein said that business leaders and right-wing commentators had repeatedly ignored reputable sources, promoted spurious anecdotes to attack unfair dismissal laws and argue that individual workplace contracts are a level playing field.  

“The debate lacks rigour, logic, fact and integrity.… The idea that unfair dismissal laws have any significant bearing on unemployment has not been established since the first such laws were introduced in South Australia. In other words, we have had over 40 years experience of such laws without a single, credible piece of peer reviewed research that would support such an attack.”

On the issue of individual workplace agreements, he says:

“If we are to have a rational, honest and informed debate about individual employment contracts or AWAs or some other form of individual agreement in this country, it would start with an acknowledgment that in all but exceptional cases: they are take-it or leave-it contracts.

“They are not negotiated or individually tailored to employee’s circumstances; they do not offer employees flexibility; and, they are used by employers who wish to unilaterally determine terms and conditions of employment.

Mr Bornstein also attacked the longstanding, but inaccurate belief that industrial relations reform was harming productivity.

“Much research has been conducted over the years into productivity, both in Australia and overseas. Virtually none of it ranks IR legislation as a top tier issue or even a second or third tier issue.”

Read speech here

Biographical details

Practice Areas: