The question in the title of this article came about from the release of a fabulous new book by LexisNexis- Butterworths – Australian Labour Law – Text, Cases & Commentary, 5th edition.
Through my introductory look at the book, it seems that occupational health and safety gets around half a page in a book of over 1200 pages. As an OHS reader I was disappointed, as I believe that OHS is an important subset of labour law. My belief is echoed by some Australian publishers who include, usually, a chapter on OHS in their labour law titles. LexisNexis has never been a publisher of OHS information with the market leader being CCH but with Federation Press holding the more quality and original sector.
One possible reason for the lack of OHS is that the authors, Marilyn J Pittard and Richard B Naughton are lecturers in labour law at Monash University and OHS does not feature in their program. Another could be that the book is a monolithic volume already and, perhaps, OHS could not be given adequate attention without adding a couple of pounds to the book and generating a manual handling risk.
It is hoped that LexisNexis realises there is a market opening for authoritative and fresh writing on OHS in Australia, particularly in this period of change due to harmonisation. The morphing of OHS in the areas of due diligence and risk management are particularly interesting to watch.
Another area of disappointment for me is the lack of content on the role of human rights and international law on labour law in Australia. Human rights does not even gain a mention in the index. International labour law may inhabit a different discipline in academia but with Australian law firms increasingly expanding into the Asian and Middle East regions, even in relation to the Pacific, more on the ILO obligations, standards and human rights would have been welcome.
But if I am disappointed in the OHS quotient, how come I described the book as “fabulous” above? This book shows the amount of effort and thought that has gone in to its creation. The book has been written in a period of rapid change in industrial relations in Australia. In a short period of time Australia’s labour law structures have gone from a rigid awards system to WorkChoices, to WorkChoices Lite and now an era of Fair Work. Whether this is progressive or circular depends a little on one’s politics. But good books on industrial relations minimise the politics and focus on the law. Labour Law does this very well.
Being a 5th edition usually allows for an update of existing information with a lot of content already written. The IR flux seems to have not allowed for this time-saving process and much is new, as it needed to be. The 5th edition is almost twice the size of its predecessor.
Its size is one of its greatest achievements. Throughout the text are extracts and cases, many over several pages. Some of these extracts are from publications that have been difficult to access in their original and so, although the book is cumbersome and heavy, it is authoritative. The extracts are not limited to LexisNexis-Butterworth tomes but draw on information from a broad range of journals and publications. This is a substantial achievement for the authors and a great boon for the student readership. The text-book price of over $A160 could easily be justified through the extracts and referencing.
There must have been a temptation to follow other legal publishers who provide a thinner book but one supported by an online library. Many academics say that their students do not read books and urge greater online content. The dual model is still being refined in Australia and it would be surprising if a company like LexisNexis, with such a strong international online presence, would not consider the dual model.
I am not in a position to say this is a definitive labour law book as I inhabit a small section of this vast discipline and I have only had the book for a short while. Labour Law seems to be ideal for its intended audience and it lifts the bar in some areas. We will need to wait for that elusive OHS textbook.
Kevin Jones regularly receives review copies from Federation Press and CCH Australia. LexisNexis provided a review copy of Labour Law.
Kevin works part-time in the news and business division of LexisNexis Australia, a division that does not involve publishing.