The Federation Press

Works Councils in Australia

Future prospects and possibilities


This book presents a range of perspectives on the future prospects and possibilities of works councils in Australia. It is argued by many that lower trade union presence in recent years has led to the development of a ’representation gap’ in many organisations and that recent corporate failures have reinstated the debate for greater employer accountability and more effective corporate governance at the workplace. The authors in this book argue that these developments highlight an important issue for policy makers, namely whether in this climate Australia should seek to encourage collective representation structures such as works councils reinforced by supportive laws and policies.

Drawing on current Australian and overseas research, the authors in this book address these issues be presenting a number of questions.

Why do we need works councils in Australia?
What is the current state of play regarding workplace employee representation?
Can works councils be accommodated under the current legislative framework?
What is the likelihood of success?
What are the opportunities and the threats for employers and unions in introducing works councils in Australia?

The book is divided into four sections. The first serves as an introduction to additional forms of employee representation in the Australian context. The next section presents an Australian perspective on the past, present and the possibilities for works councils in Australia. The following section examines relevant international developments and the potential lessons for Australia. Finally, the last section draws the threads of the debate together with an assessment of the future development of works councils in Australia.

This book seeks to demonstrate that only by establishing mechanisms that allow employees to have legitimate voice and that allow differences to emerge will managers be able to channel such differences into more productive outcomes for employers and employees. The fact remains that even new co-operative tendencies do not eliminate the adversarial element in organisations. Both management and employees could well rediscover that there is an important and enduring role for collective representation at the workplace. It could be argued that increased support for institutions such as works councils is recognition that value creation is an essentially social process and that organisational sustainability depends on legitimate social governance. Perhaps we should recognise that the time has come for new institutions to create a new type of workplace...


This collection is an insightful and worthwhile enterprise highlighting important elements for the implementation of works councils in an industrial relations environment previously untouched by them. - Transfer (European Trade Union Institute Quarterly) Vol 9 No 3, Autumn 2003

This is an excellent collection of essays, which canvasses a wide range of views and issues about works councils and their future prospects in Australia. The contributors generally argue for federal intervention rather than management to bring about this reform ...
My only unease about the subject of this book relates to a feeling of déjà vu. Works councils were a focus of debate in Australian industrial relations in the 1970s. ... Australian employers in the past have been reluctant to embrace earlier waves of industrial democracy and it may now be even more the case. Significantly there are no contributions for employers to this book.
Overall, this is a very interesting and provocative book. I applaud the editors for incorporating a range of views to stimulate debate. - Greg Patmore, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol 45(3), September 2003

Table of Contents


Additional forms of employee representation in Australia
Paul J Gollan, Ray Markey and Iain Ross

National Perspectives

Enterprise based employee representation in Australia - Employer strategies and future options
Paul J Gollan and Jonathan Hamberger
Democratising the Workplace - Unions and Work Councils?
Martin Foley
Works Councils and Inequality at Work in Contemporary Australia
John Buchanan and Chris Briggs
Works Councils and Labour Law
Ron McCallum and Glenn Patmore

International Developments

Works Councils: Lessons from Europe for Australia
Herman Knudsen and Ray Markey
Works Councils in Germany: Are they ’transplantable’ to Australia?
Anthony Forsyth
Reconstituting the Collective? Non-union employee representative structures in the United Kingdom and Australia
Franklin Gaffney


Future prospects for the development of works councils in Australia - A final comment
Stephen Long


Jonathan Hamberger
Jonathan Hamberger has been Employment Advocate since 1998. Jonathan has over 20 years public service experience in both the Commonwealth and New South Wales Governments. He was senior policy adviser to the Commonwealth Minister for Industrial Relations, Peter Reith from 1996 to 1997 He is the author of a number of academic studies on individual contracts. He has an honours degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University.

Martin Foley
Martin Foley is President Victorian Branch of the Australian Services Union. Has a thesis in Commerce from Uni of Melbourne on Union organisation strategies in globalising firms and managerial responses. Right Handed batsman with a declining average - too susceptible to the off cutter.

John Buchanan
John Buchanan is currently Deputy Director (Research) of the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training (ACIRRT) at the University of Sydney. Prior to taking up this position he was Director of Policy Research in the Commonwealth Department of Industrial Relations. He was a member of the team that undertook the first Australian Workplace Industrial Relations Survey (AWIRS) between 1989 and 1991. His primary research interests are the demise of the classical wage earner model of employment and the role of the state in nurturing new forms of multi-employer coordination. He has degrees in history, law and economics (all from the ANU) and a Ph D in work and organizational studies (from the University of Sydney).

Chris Briggs
Chris Briggs is currently a Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training (ACIRRT) at the University of Sydney. He has previously worked at the Commonwealth Department of Industrial Relations, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Department of Industrial Relations, University of Sydney. His PhD was a history of the ACTU and the topics of recent publications have included the ACTU, the origins of enterprise bargaining and the effects of labour market deregulation. Current research interests include comparative wage politics, international unionism, social workers and alternative forms of employment.

Ron McCallum
Ron McCallum is the foundation Blake Dawson Waldron Professor in Industrial Law of the University of Sydney and he is currently the Pro-Dean (Teaching Programs) of the Faculty of Law of the University of Sydney. He is the inaugural President of the Australian Labour Law Association. Ron has taught labour law in Australia, the United States and in Canada and he is a member of the Overseas Correspondent’s Committee of the National Academy of Arbitrators which is a United States and Canadian body for private labour arbitration. He was a member of review bodies which played roles in the enactment of the Industrial Relations Act 1996 (NSW), the Industrial Relations Act 1999 (Q) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 (NSW). Ron was the independent Chair of the Victorian Industrial Relations Taskforce which reported to the Government of Victoria in September 2000. He has written widely on labour law, and his latest book is Employer Controls Over Private Life, which was published by the University of New South Wales Press in November 1999. He is currently writing a book provisionally titled Industrial Citizenship in Australia. Ron is married to Dr Mary Crock and they have one daughter and two sons.

Glenn Patmore
Glenn Patmore teaches constitutional and administrative law and law and democracy at the University of Melbourne. He is presently researching and writing in the fields of constitutional law, democratic theory and practice, and employee representation in the work place. He is the co - editor of Labor Essays, an appointment he has held for 3 years.

Herman Knudsen
Herman Knudsen is Associate Professor in Labour Relations at the Department of Development and Planning, Aalborg University, Denmark. His main research field is employee participation in decision-making at the workplace. Among his publications are a comparative European study of participatory institutions - Employee Participation in Europe (Sage, 1995) - and a number of books and articles on European Works Councils.

Anthony Forsyth
Anthony Forsyth is a Lecturer in the Centre for Employment and Labour Relations Law at the University of Melbourne. He is currently undertaking PhD research on legal mechanisms for informing and consulting employees over business restructuring, examining the possible adaptation of relevant European laws to the Australian setting. Anthony is also Secretary of the Australian Labour Law Association, and Associate Editor of the Australian Journal of Labour Law.

Franklin Gaffney
Franklin Gaffney is an employment lawyer with the international law firm Allen & Overy and specializes in industrial relations. He advises national and international companies on trade union related matters with particular focus on European Works Councils. Prior to working with Allen & Overy, Franklin was a Chevening Scholar at the London School of Economics where he completed his Masters in Labour Law. He has also worked as an employment lawyer with Mallesons Stephen Jacques in Australia.

Of interest...