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'Democratic' Preconditions for Strike Action: A Comparative Study of Australian and UK Labour Legislation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115 - 146
Number of pages32
JournalInternational Journal of Comparative Labour Law
Volume28
Issue number2
DatePublished - 2012

Abstract

In this article, we investigate legislative controls on the ability of workers and their organizations to take strike action, which raise fundamental questions relating to the application of democratic principles in a workplace setting. We trace the introduction of legislative provisions in Australia and the UK which sought to impose ‘majoritarian’ forms of democracy on trade union structures, by requiring ballots before such action could be taken.We recognize that these statutory pre-conditions are problematic both in terms of their aims and effects. Yet, what is arguably more worrying is the new institutionalization of deliberative pre-conditions for industrial action in the workplace. In Australia, this has taken the form of a requirement that a ballot applicant has ‘genuinely tried to reach agreement’, a requirement that continues to apply during any actual industrial action. In the UK context, the scope of protection from unfair dismissal (beyond a twelve-week period) will be affected by whether the union has complied with procedures established by an applicable collective or other agreement, offered or agreed to commence or resume negotiations, and has not unreasonably refused a request that conciliation or mediation services be used. In both countries, there seems to be growing pressure in policy terms for strikes to be very much a last resort, as statutory support for bargaining in good faith becomes stronger. We argue that these deliberative democratic controls of strike action are misguided.A richer understanding of deliberative democracy should, in our view, offer greater space for workers to voice their opposition in negotiations with employers. Keywords: industrial action, trade unions, democracy, balloting, UK,Australia.

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Publisher: Kluwer

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