By David Bates

Last week’s UK general election was eye-opening for a number of reasons. Obviously the outcome (a majority win for the governing Conservatives) was a surprise, as were the rising and falling fortunes of the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats respectively.

But something else made this election interesting from an Australian perspective: the almost complete absence of any debate about employment law.

Sure, there was a divergence of opinion between the major parties about so-called ‘zero hour employment contracts’ (similar to casual employment), but none of the major parties was seeking a mandate for substantial change to the UK’s employment laws.

In stark contrast with the situation we find ourselves here in Australia, all of the major UK parties seem to agree that the nation’s employment laws are working well. Even the UK Labour Party – with all its ongoing ties to the UK and European union movement – doesn’t habitually call for endless ‘reform’ or ‘review’ of the country’s employment laws.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be, because the situation is largely the same in the US, Canada, NZ, and across Scandinavia. In fact, it’s right here at home where you’ll find the exception to the general consensus about employment laws.

It’s only here that the major parties believe that ‘fundamental reform of employment law’ should be thrust at voters as a central policy at almost every election campaign. Whether it was WorkChoices during the Howard years or the Orwellian-inspired ‘Fair Work’ laws of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years, Australia’s big parties seem obsessed with endless review and reform of employment law.

All these constant swings from extreme ‘pro-employer’ to ‘pro-union’ legislation have resulted in one simply outcome for both employers and employees: confusion. And this confusion leads to rampant non-compliance with what are surely the modern world’s most hopelessly complex employment laws.

We could learn so much from the UK – and from Canada, NZ, the USA, and Scandinavia for that matter. In those places employers understand their obligations, and this helps create a culture of compliance, which is a win/win for employees and the economy.

Australian unions could learn something from their ‘comrades’ in those places too, and the lesson is a simple one: spend more time engaged in constructive debate on behalf of your members and less time clambering for safe seats in parliament and engaging in seemingly endless rorts that result in a rather embarrassing (but highly entertaining for the rest of us) Royal Commission into trade union corruption.

At the end of the day, employers, employees, government, and the economy all benefit from consistency, familiarity, and respect for the rule of law.