The Age
28 July 2005
(Square bracketed words omitted from published version)

Josh Bernstein argues (Opinion 27/7) that other than in exceptional cases employees do not have equal bargaining power with employers when negotiating individual contracts. [He supports his argument by referring to an 18th century judgment commenting on the position of necessitous men. But things have moved on since then].

However, in today's relatively modern competitive economy, there are over 1.1 million Australian businesses and virtually no scope for employers to exercise monopoly-type powers. Bernstein overlooks that, as employers need workers to operate their businesses, they [actively] compete among each other for the services of a workforce of around 10 million and that workers have alternatives as well as a generous social security system backstop.

[In such circumstances] no valid argument can be mounted that, without prescriptive regulations, employers can dictate conditions their employees have to accept. When working conditions are unacceptable to either party, each has alternatives that, while not necessarily the [first] best option for either, prevent businesses from being imposers and workers from being slackers. Surveys show that Australia's labour force exhibits a high degree of job satisfaction and is able, in most cases voluntarily, to change jobs without penalty.

Accordingly, freedom to enter individual contracts can be expanded in the mutual interests of both workers and employers.