Employment Law (Workplace Law)

The book, “A New Province of Law and Order” was written by Justice Higgins[1] and provides information in terms of the labour relations regime and the frequent chaos incurred by the labour force over the 20th century.[2] In particular, he discussed fair minimum wage and the condition of workers. The purpose of the book's chronicling of the different articles relays the need for compulsory arbitration and conciliation mechanisms. It has become the source of the arbitration and other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. These mechanisms were devised as a way of dealing with the reality that the state cannot have an absolute jurisdiction over a matter that was differently designed and defined by private corporations or individuals.[3]

Higgins made a historical change to the labour market in Australia. In particular, he ensured minimum wages and fair wages for employees to help to prevent them from being exploited by employers in the workplace. The famous Australian judgment, "Harvester Judgement"[4] held by Higgins, was delivered in 1907. In his judgement, the employer, Hugh McKay, who owned a  company that manufactures agricultural machinery, was obliged to pay  a wage to his employees to enable them to maintain a standard of living.

The new province according to Higgins was the relations that bound both employers and their employees. In a civil community, the obvious expectation would be that it is possible to regulate labour relations that would bind both parties to law and order. He further goes on to say that the differences between the owners and their employees is a war with the entire state justice system. He argues that this reduces the time spent in courts and the cost. Law and order would control the way disputes between an employer and employee are resolved.  The constitutional arrangement permits a state to deal with labour relations as best as it can. An exception over land disputes came into existence much later but the point and I think Higgins’ point as well, is that industrial disputes should afford the state a role in defining the mechanism of such resolution.



[1] The full name of Higgins is Henry Bournes Higgins. Higgins was born in Ireland in 1851 and immigrated to Australia in 1870. He had a law degree from Melbourne University and was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly as the member for Geelong in 1894. In 1901, Higgins was elected to the seat of North Melbourne in the House of Representatives and also appointed justice of the High Court of Australia in 1906. In 1907, he replaced Richard O’Connor as President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.

[2] Higgins not only shared his personal experience while engaging in the High Court in Australia but also discussed the Australian economic issues with regards to the law of employment.

[3] Later in 1920, Higgins was involved in one of the significant judgements which changed the Australian employee's environment and reduced working hours to 44 hours per week.

[4] His ruling was  left in the heart of the Australian history and also raised the legal requirement for a basic wage for employees.



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