Organized Decentralisation. Institutional Fragmentation in Australian Industrial Relations 1983-2012.

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW2.3.01 (Tower Two)
Richard Cooney, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Russell Lansbury, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Institutional fragmentation is often seen to accompany the liberalisation of industrial relations. This fragmentation is usually seen to be the product of piecemeal institutional reform (Hamman & Martinez-Lucio 2003, Lee 2011, Roche 1997).

            This paper examines three decades of institutional reform in the Australian industrial relations system to identify the development of the new institutional architecture of liberalised industrial relations. The paper reviews the historical-institutional literature on institutional change and then presents an historical narrative of social democratic and conservative liberalisation in Australia. The paper identifies social democratic reform strategies of institutional drift through the layering of industrial instruments and conservative reform through deinstitutionalisation and the layering of institutions (Thelen 2009, 2010).

            The outcome of this institutional reform has been liberalisation through institutional overlap. The central institutional authority of the industrial courts has been dissipated and overlapping institutional arrangements with the federal courts and individual rights tribunals have created an institutional plurality favourable to employers as they customise the local micro institutions of employment relations. Employer voluntarism, in the Australian case, has been strengthened not so much by deregulation and the removal of institutions, nor by the creation of new institutions, as it has been by the decentralisation of institutional domains. This institutional fragmentation through institutional overlap is complemented by the normative fragmentation of institutional rules in industrial relations. The established quasi-judicial norms of industrial dispute resolution now sit alongside the legal-judicial norms of dispute settlement in courts.


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