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The Australian National University

Government Procurement as a Vehicle for Workplace Relations Reform: The Case of the National Code of Practice for the Construction Industry

Breen Creighton (2012) 40 (3)

The use of public procurement as a vehicle for achieving public policy objectives can conveniently be traced to the Fair Wages Resolution which was adopted by the British House of Commons in 1891. This technique was subsequently adopted in many jurisdictions, and finds clear expression in the International Labour Organisation ('ILO')'s Labour Clauses (Public Contracts) Convention 1949 (No 94) ('Convention No 94').1 This article describes the British model and its international progeny, and then examines a controversial and unusual Australian mutation in the form of the National Code of Practice for the Construction Industry ('Code') and the various iterations of the associated Implementation Guidelines ('Guidelines') which have been adopted since 1998. It suggests that the Code and Guidelines, especially under the Howard Government, constitute a perversion of the traditional use of public procurement as a vehicle for the implementation of public policy in the industrial context. That is because they were directed to the curtailment of the rights of workers and their organisations rather than protecting employment standards and promoting collective bargaining. The article argues that the Code and Guidelines sit uneasily with accepted notions of the rule of law in a number of respects, and with certain aspects of Australia's obligations in international law. It also discusses the Fair Work Principles ('FW Principles') which have applied to all aspects of procurement by the Commonwealth since January 2010, and suggests that they embody an approach to public procurement and the promotion of social objectives which is rather more in keeping with international best practice than that reflected in the Construction Industry Code and Guidelines.

Vol 40, Issue 3, 2012

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