Australia, in common with many other industrialised countries in the 1990s, has experienced a shift towards individualism in labour law and labour market regulation. This has been part of a wider change as governments have opened up domestic markets to international competition, while rethinking the protections provided by the welfare state. Business has demanded deregulation of all kinds but particularly in the labour market, with the aim of achieving greater flexibility and efficiency in the utilisation of labour. The debate over the reform of industrial relations institutions and processes in Australia has been conducted in terms of ‘enterprise bargaining’, a diffuse term which means (depending on the position of the speaker) either collective bargaining involving national unions but with outcomes tailored to specific workplaces, or firm-specific bargaining by internal enterprise-based parties with minimal involvement from ‘external’ bodies such as unions. During the last decade the debate has moved from an assumption of collective bargaining with union involvement, to the view that agreements should be primarily individual in nature. Legislation has mirrored this debate, with increasing emphasis being given to individual agreements. Hence the legal relationship between collective and individual agreements is of major importance in contemporary Australian labour law.
This book chapter was originally published as Frazer, AD, Individualism and Collectivism in Agreement-Making under Australian Labour Law, in Severynski, M (ed), Collective Agreements and Individual Contracts of Employment, The Hague, Kluwer Law International, 2003, 49-82.