Australian Labour Law


1.      You are a researcher with the Big Australia Council, a prominent, independent think-tank with no political affiliations. You have been asked to write a paper examining the development of the federal system of labour regulation from the late 1980s to the present, highlighting and explaining the most significant changes that have occurred. You are also asked to discuss how the various labour statutes over that time have sought to promote the ‘protective’ function of labour regulation, and/or ‘economic’ objectives; and how successful they have been in achieving either or both of those objectives.


2.      You are a graduate lawyer with Paris End Lawyers, a legal firm which mainly represents employers in workplace relations and employment matters. The partner you work with has new instructions from a start-up company providing a range of ‘life management’ services to customers in Australian capital cities through an ‘app’. The partner has requested a background paper examining employment issues arising from the growth of ‘peer-to-peer’ platforms or the ‘gig/sharing economy’ in recent years. What challenges have these new forms of service provision presented to traditional forms of employment regulation? Are workers providing services through these new models employees or independent contractors? How should they be categorised, and why? [Note: you may explore international developments as well as those in Australia in addressing this topic.]


3.      You are a lawyer with the Victorian Employment Law Centre, a community legal centre providing free advice and representation to vulnerable workers who are not union members. The organisation’s committee of management is concerned about increasing media and other reports of worker exploitation in the Australian community, and wants to engage in some lobbying of federal politicians. It has requested a paper exploring the following issues: the industries/sectors in which cases of exploitation are prevalent; the factors contributing to exploitation; the various forms of exploitation; and an assessment of current legal protections against exploitation, along with any relevant reform proposals.


4.      You are an industrial officer with the Retail and Hospitality Workers’ Union. The union’s national secretary has asked you to prepare a paper examining the issue of penalty rates for employees working irregular hours, and on weekends and public holidays. The union is alarmed by proposals to reduce penalty rates for certain types of workers in the Productivity Commission’s Workplace Relations Framework: Final Report (November 2015); and the Fair Work Commission’s February 2017 decision to reduce penalty rates in particular sectors. You are required to include in your paper some background on the development of penalty rates in the Australian labour law system; the legal basis for penalty rates; and the arguments for and against their reduction.


5.      You are a policy adviser with the Australian Employers’ Federation, which represents large corporations in the manufacturing, logistics, transport and aviation industries. The organisation’s board has asked you to write a paper on the use of flexible forms of engaging labour including casual, part-time and fixed-term employment, labour hire and independent contracting. The board is concerned about the tendency in public debate to describe these forms of engagement as ‘insecure work’. It requests that in the paper you examine the beneficial aspects of these arrangements for workers and businesses; their alleged disadvantages; and the merits of recent regulatory responses (for example, but not limited to, the Fair Work Commission’s July 2017 decision on casual conversion clauses and other matters relating to casual/part-time employment).


6.      If you would like to write on another topic, please contact me and we will discuss your area of interest with a view to defining a clear topic/questions.


Papers must be submitted electronically via the course Blackboard site, including checking your paper for plagiarism through Turnitin.

The 4,000-word limit is not inclusive of footnotes, but students should avoid including within footnotes discursive material that properly belongs in the text of the research paper.

The Research Assignment is worth 50% of the available marks in this course. The criteria for assessment of the Research Assignment will be as follows:




5 marks


Consistent use of legal citation and referencing (following the Australian Guide to Legal Citation), and correct use of legal terminology, grammar and spelling.


20 marks


Thoroughness of research, and quality of synthesis of legal materials and information relevant to the topic for the written assessment task.


25 marks


Clear articulation of issues, applicable law and legal reasoning; a well-structured discussion and presentation of arguments; critical assessment of legal issues and law reform (as appropriate).


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