Enterprise agreements entrench inequality

The Fair Work Act unintentionally disadvantages women, minorities and carers, according to former Federal Workplace Gender Equality Agency director Libby Lyons.

An Adjunct Professor at Australian Catholic University, Ms Lyons was the keynote speaker the university’s eighth Annual Hon Barry O’Keefe Memorial Lecture.

In a virtual address, Ms Lyons explored the topic, “Is the Fair Work Act really fair?”

Ms Lyons acquitted the Fair Work Commission of deliberately approving Enterprise Agreements that discriminated, instead blaming “the process around the consultation and negotiation of the EAs by employers, unions and other relevant bodies and the submission and subsequent assessment of them in the commission”.

EAs that prescribe certain roles can only be performed by fulltime employees or where financial incentives were provided to employees working fulltime, discriminate against women, Ms Lyons said.

“If we consider that in 2021 … 67.6 per cent of all part-time employees were women, then precluding part-time employees from particular roles or providing more favourable terms and conditions for full-time employees over part-time employees is most certainly discriminating against women.”

Investment in technology could prove to be a game-changer in scrutinising Australia’s more than 10,000 EAs.

“Many industries and organisations are now making the most of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to enhance their business and the life of their employees,” she said.

“Think about the software that de-identifies job applications and health records. Software that extracts data or crucial pieces of information from documents and records to assist with more accurate invoicing and tax documents.”

Dean of the Thomas More Law School Patrick Keyzer said ACU students at the lecture were fortunate to learn from the keynote speaker who jokingly herself as “a bush lawyer”.

“Professor Lyons has provided a thought-provoking analysis of Commonwealth industrial law and practice, through the lens of gender equality,” Professor Keyzer said.

“We welcome Professor Lyons’ contribution to the intellectual climate of the Law School and we’re sure students and colleagues alike will benefit from her insights as Barry O’Keefe Lecturer for 2022”.

The Barry O’Keefe Memorial Lecture is an annual event hosted by ACU’s Thomas More Law School, and it is named in honour of the late Hon Barry O'Keefe AM QC DUniv (HonorisCausa) (ACU).

ACU awarded an honorary doctorate to Justice O’Keefe in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the judiciary, the NSW legal system and to the Church.

Barry O’Keefe was an Australian judge and lawyer who served as a justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales from 1993 to 2004 and the Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption from 1994 until 1999.


Have a question?

We're available 9am–5pm AEDT,
Monday to Friday

If you’ve got a question, our AskACU team has you covered. You can search FAQs, text us, email, live chat, call – whatever works for you.

Live chat with us now

Chat to our team for real-time
answers to your questions.

Launch live chat

Visit our FAQs page

Find answers to some commonly
asked questions.

See our FAQs