The implications of de-collectivist industrial relations laws and associated developments for worker health and safety in Australia, 1996–2007


  • Michael Quinlan is a Professor, School of Organisation and Management, University of New South Wales; an honorary professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney; and adjunct professor, Business School, Middlesex University. Richard Johnstone is Professor and Director, Socio-Legal Research Centre, Griffith Law School, Griffith University, and Co-Detector, National Research Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, Australian National University.

Michael Quinlan, School of Organisation and Management, Australian School of Business, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia; email:


The institutional and regulatory interlinkages between industrial relations (IR) and occupational health and safety (OHS) are seldom explored in the IR literature. This article begins to address this gap by examining regulatory initiatives in Australia during a period of neoliberal government. It examines the laws enacted by the federal government during this period and events and cases arising from these laws that go some way to illustrating their effects. Evidence is also drawn from detailed research on a number of state OHS inspectorates between 2004 and 2006. It is argued that de-collectivist changes to IR laws exacerbated problems posed by the growth of flexible work arrangements and a drop in union density, weakening participatory provisions in OHS laws and promoting work arrangements that undermined OHS standards. The study provides evidence of the implications of a divergence in the trajectory of IR and OHS laws and the importance of better integrating worker protection laws.