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Government Agency entry Australian Industrial Relations Commission (1988 - )

Regulatory Body


After consideration of the Hancock recommendations, the Government introduced a
legislative reform package, the centrepiece of which was the repeal of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and its replacement by the Industrial Relations Act 1988. The new Act completely revised the provisions of the old Act and, while maintaining most of its predecessor's substance, introduced a number of changes to federal industrial arrangements.

The Australian Industrial Relations Commission was established to replace the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and three specialist tribunals covering the maritime industry, public sector employment and airline pilots. Also established was the Australian Industrial Registry as a statutory authority to replace the former Office of the Industrial Registrar, which carried out administrative arrangements for the Commission.

Provision was made for persons to hold dual appointments on the Commission and a State
industrial tribunal, and the new position of Designated Presidential Member of the Commission was created, with responsibilities for matters such as registration, amalgamation and major rule changes of employer and employee organisations. Also revised in the Act were provisions about registered agreements and demarcation disputes.

During the latter part of the 1980s the nature of national wage cases was changing to reflect changes in the economic environment in which the Commission was operating. Beginning in 1987, the Commission, in a series of national wage decisions, sought to provide a framework to encourage the industrial relations parties to improve efficiency and productivity. The framework was provided by the wage-fixing principles set out in those decisions. The principles sought to regulate improvements in award wages and conditions by increasingly linking such improvements to award modernisation and workplace reform.

A related development was widespread debate about the need and scope for the
implementation of enterprise bargaining in the Australian context. The growing focus on
enterprise bargaining led to the amendment of the Industrial Relations Act in 1992 to facilitate approval or certification of agreements by the Commission. The same amendment also created the new Commission offices of Vice President and Senior Deputy President.

The 1996 Workplace Relations Act significantly reduced the powers of the AIRC. The Act provided for legally binding agreements between employers and employees without union intervention. The role of the Commission was also reduced in that it could only make rulings on certain workplace matters (mainly pay, work hours and closely related issues), and its earlier rulings on matters outside these were to cease effect in 1998. Further changes included the limiting of intervention, largely to circumstances which have potential to "cause significant damage to the Australian economy". The AIRC’s existing powers include summoning witnesses to appear and give evidence under oath, and to make and vary orders and awards and do “all things necessary or expedient for the speedy and just hearing and determination of the industrial dispute”.


 1904 - 1956 Commonwealth Court of Conciliation & Arbitration
       1920 - 1984 Public Service Arbitrator
       1956 - 1973 Commonwealth Conciliation & Arbitration Commission
             1973 - 1988 Australian Conciliation & Arbitration Commission
                   1988 - Australian Industrial Relations Commission

Ross G. Elford