The Engine of Antipodean Fordism: Australia’s Metal Trades Award, 1947-63

Australian and New Zealand Law and History Society
Publication Type:
Journal Article
law&history, 2019, 6 (1), pp. 143 - 174
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
The thirty-year post-World War II boom in Australia has been described as the era of the antipodean Fordist model of development. Key to the functioning of this model is a ‘lead sector’, an industry or industries that are the source of wage and conditions improvements that subsequently flow-on to workers in the broader labour force. In Australia, the metal trades sector executed this vital function. This article explores the path by which this sector, governed by the Metal Trades Award, became juridically institutionalised as a pace-setter in the practices and methodology of the federal arbitral tribunal between 1947 and 1963. Focussing on several key decisions fixing payments for skill in awards, so-called ‘margins’, it will be seen that, by a process of evolution, the metal trades sector came to dominate marginal wage fixation, and was construed by the federal tribunal as a proxy for the economy at large. In plotting the process by which this lead sector principle took root, the article also reveals a differentiation of this principle into a ‘passive’ and ‘active’ facet.
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