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World's leading labour economist visits the University of Sydney Business School

02 Sep 2011

Distinguished labour economist from Harvard University, Professor Richard B Freeman, gave a special presentation at the University of Sydney Business School yesterday to staff, industry leaders and students where he compared the on-going US industrial relations debate with the Australian Work Choices experience and the emerging debate about collective bargaining for NSW public sector employees.

The Honourable Sophie Cotsis, State Labor's shadow minister for industrial relations, was joined by the National Secretary of United Voice, Louise Tarrant, and NSW Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Tim Ayres, to hear Professor's Freedom's reflections on the US System and "Right to work" states.

The man many consider to be the world's leading labour economist, Professor Freeman, was critical of the former Howard Government's Work Choices policy and called these policies an attack on collective bargaining.

(Left to right) John Buchanan (Director of the Workplace Research Centre), Richard B Freeman and Bradon Ellem (Chair of Work and Organisational Studies Discipline)

He felt Labor could have done more than it has to redress those failings. He recommended a more forward looking approach to industrial relations in Australia using recent examples of European practices.

"Union membership increases as people lose faith in business, and government leadership and that is certainly the case in Australia. Today more workers are represented by company sponsored organisations then by unions," he said.

Professor Freeman offered insight into the intellectual underpinnings of the current US debt crisis, criticising proponents of tax cuts and attacks on employee's conditions. He also said there was enormous opportunity with social media for new ways of uniting workers.

"This hasn't been explored to its full potential yet and I believe it is a significant way of arresting the decline in union membership in Australia."

Chair of the Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies, Dr Bradon Ellem said: "We are thrilled to have someone of the calibre of Professor Freeman present at the Business School. He is one of the leading scholars in this field over the past 30 years and his insight is useful for my Business School research colleagues and our industry friends alike."

Professor Freeman was a guest of the Business School and the United States Studies Centre. This was Freeman's first visit to Australia since 2007.