Friday, January 12, 2018
I posted yesterday on the conference earlier this week on minimum wage laws in developing countries. Daniel Helman (Ton Duc Thang University, Labor Relations & Trade Unions) circulated a follow-up email making a point about minimum wage laws I hadn't considered before. I suspect his argument has equal force when a single state or municipality in the U.S. raises its minimum wage significantly above (extraordinarily low, by any historical standard) national base rate. Here is Daniel's argument:
During my recent visits to Australia and Singapore (in December) I spent some time networking with academic colleagues. In both places people were talking about how Vietnam was projected to be the most important economy in SE Asia in twenty years. One of the key indicators of this projection is the rate of rise of wages here in Vietnam. The rapid wage increase is seen as a reflection of economic strength and an indicator of future economic growth.
Thus the trend in wage increases signals to the rest of the world that the economy of Vietnam is becoming increasingly robust. Such a signal leads to foreign investment at a consumer level—as international companies aim to establish an economic presence here in Vietnam. They do this now so that in the future, as the domestic demand is large, they will have a well-established presence and will be able to command a large share of the market in their sector.
Of course Vietnam has other features that influence its future success, such as a single-party system which allows for more focused and beneficial policies to be implemented more easily than in other systems; and a culture that is perhaps more focused on its own success after so much hardship for so many decades; and other intangibles, such as respect for the role of work and effort in the family. But the increase in wages—based in large part on the increases in the minimum wage over the past several years, has done a great deal to place Vietnam very high in its economic forecast. Such a signal leads to future investment, and these facts can form a strategy to (rightly) promote future increases in the minimum wage here so that it will reach the level of a living wage sufficient to meet more basic needs. It is similar to the point [ILO Vietnam Country Director] Dr. Chang-Hee Lee made on the first day [of the conference], about how increases in the minimum wage increase demand.
Obviously the totality of pathways and feedbacks are more complicated than what I have written above, but the essential point is that the rate of increase in wages is a signal of the growing robustness of the domestic market; and that this signal is read by global economic stakeholders and influences their behavior.
Thursday, January 11, 2018
Earlier this week I participated in a conference on minimum wage laws in Viet Nam (and SE Asia generally) at the Tôn Đức Thắng University Labor College in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Viet Nam. International wage & hour law is not my specialty, so it was a pleasure to learn from the many law faculty, workers' advocates, employer representatives, and even even the former head of the VGCL (the government-controlled unified trade union) attending. My key take-aways:
The traditional neoclassical economic argument that increasing the minimum wage decreases employment may have even less salience in developing countries than in developed ones. Even in the countries like Viet Nam that produce a large quantity of the clothing, electronics, and other goods consumed in the West, the vast majority of workers still work in services and manufacturing for the local economy. Raising minimum wages can increase both worker productivity and domestic consumption, which can have a positive effect on economic growth and employment and thus offset potential negative effects.
The risk of capital flight in response to raising the minimum wage is overstated. A MNC that has built a factory here is unlikely to relocate it because of a requirement that it spend an extra few cents per hour on wages. It's less clear how increases in minimum wage laws might influence future capital allocation decisions.
- Companies looking to maximize profits by minimizing labor costs are barking up the wrong tree -- they should instead be looking to cut supply-chain costs. The pair of Nikes we spend $150 for in the West costs about $12 to make, of which $2-3 is labor costs. The $138 difference between retail price and cost-of-production is where companies should be looking if they want to squeeze further profits. Nike could slash those costs by vertically integrating, which would have the salutary effect of making Nike directly and obviously responsible for the workers who make the company's shoes. The fact that the Nikes of the world aren't doing this is telling.
- The proportion of workers in the informal economy has a huge impact on the efficacy of minimum wage laws. Minimum wage laws may actually exacerbate wage inequality in countries where a large proportion of workers are off-the-books.
- Minimum wage laws can perform an important signaling effect in developing countries. I'll add a guest post on this topic shortly.
Monday, September 11, 2017
Thanks to Tequila Brooks for passing along this information on recent labor reforms to Mexico's Constitution:
Canadian NGO Maquiladora Solidarity Network has published a great briefing Briefing Paper on recent labor reforms to Mexico's Constitution. The paper highlights what's at stake for labor justice reform and full realization of the rights to Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining in Mexico - and provides a map to what has been accomplished so far and the road ahead for a complete transformation of Mexico's labor justice reform.
This briefing paper provides an overview of the process leading to the constitutional reform, an analysis of its content and possible implications, and an assessment of the issues surrounding the coming implementing legislation. The analysis is based on research and an in-depth consultation process carried out by the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) between February and May. That process included interviews with 16 Mexican and international labour rights experts from academia, the legal sector, trade unions, and civil society organizations, as well as other sectors.
By reforming Articles 107 and 123, the Mexican government moves actively toward honouring its commitment to workers, business and the international community to provide an impartial, unbiased, independent, and transparent labour justice system. If the reform and its implementing legislation bring all of the necessary safeguards into effect to address the problem of employer protection contracts, including the right for all union members to freely elect their leaders and to receive a hard copy of and vote on their collective bargaining agreements, they could bring Mexico’s legal framework more into compliance with the International Labour Organization’s (ILOs) fundamental Conventions 8710 and 9811 on freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain.
While the reform process is still underway, international brands, employers, trade unions, worker support groups, human rights organizations and the international community can continue to support the process by acknowledging progress so far and encouraging the Mexican government to approve implementing legislation that is true to the underlying spirit and intent of the Constitutional Reform and avoids the pitfalls described above. Pressure can be brought to bear to ensure the expeditious roll-out of the implementing legislation and to ensure that justice is brought to those who violate the laws in the future. They can also encourage the government to resolve outstanding conflicts, to cease registering newly signed employer protection contracts, and to ratify ILO Convention 98. Cross-sector outreach and coordination would be particularly helpful in advancing this work.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Tequila Brooks has just posted an essay over at Intlawgrrls on Making the human rights case for including compensation for workplace injuries in free trade agreements. Here's an excerpt:
For many undocumented workers in the U.S., suffering a workplace injury can lead to detention, deportation and worse, as reported by Michael Grabell and Howard Berkes in their August 16, 2017 Pro Publica article, They Got Hurt at Work. Then They Got Deported. Although public policy and extensive case law in the U.S. guarantee workers’ compensation coverage for undocumented immigrants, insurers have found a way to avoid paying claims by reporting injured workers to federal immigration authorities.
Currently, the U.S. NAFTA re-negotiation goals do not mention incorporation of workers’ compensation or protection of migrant workers – but they should. Labor provisions in FTAs contain mechanisms that can enhance member states’ ability to protect human rights. While imperfect, the NAALC and labor provisions in other FTAs provide a forum for public petitions and inter-governmental dialogue on important cross-border labor issues. They have the as yet under-utilized potential to address the kinds of failures in justice administration immigrants encounter. NAFTA re-negotiators should remember that there is nothing more fundamental to a worker and our shared global economy than the integrity of her body and mind – and act accordingly to ensure that workers’ compensation is included among the labor rights protected in any re-negotiated agreement.
Thursday, August 31, 2017
The French government just announced a proposed set of changes to its Labor Code. The proposal touches on several areas, such as:
- Allows small employers to bargain directly with employees;
- Creates bigger bargaining units at a workplace;
- Increases severance pay;
- Lowers cap on wrongful dismissal awards;
- Lowers statute of limitations on wrongful dismissal claims; and
- Prevents labor courts that consider a company's financial health as part of a wrongful dismissal claim from considering operations outside of France.
I would expect some pretty significant protests over these changes. But Macron seems intent on pushing forward, so things should be interesting.
In the meantime, this seems like an appropriate time for a plug: Sam Estreicher and I have an article in which we evaluate the unjust dismissal laws of France and several other countries, including the U.S. In the article, we provide among other things the relevant rules for dismissal and give estimates for average awards, win rates, and time to litigate. This may be of interest to those who want to compare the new proposal with what's occurring now.
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Many thanks to Dennis Nolan (South Carolina emeritus; NAA) for forwarding Sylvain Cypel, Macron’s California Revolution, which has a detailed discussion of French President Emmanuel Macron's plans for French labor law. Here's an excerpt:
Continuing deindustrialization has shut millions of older employees out of the job market. And unemployment among the young is beating all records: at the end of April 2017, the number of officially registered jobseekers hit 5,836,000—the same number as in the United States, a country with five times France’s population! For the past forty years, whether governed by the right or the left—or even during short periods of “cohabitation”—neither side has been able to curb unemployment.
[N]ew macroniste politicians closely follow their leader’s core socioeconomic philosophy: that in today’s world, the people who rise to the top, or at least stay afloat, are those who’ve succeeded in adapting to the relentless process of globalization and its technological disruptions. There will be less and less room for job security and more and more for people who have a capacity for innovation and adaptation. Gone are lifelong professional careers. Likewise gone are rigid job descriptions and fixed work schedules. In this, Macron once again embodies a very American way of thinking. And he believes that France has to catch up to the current reality of the labor force.
But the first real test of the new president’s mandate will be the new labor law that he intends to issue as an executive order, before asking France’s parliament to vote on it. Macron wants to move fast. He wants to take advantage of the “big bang” of his election and his opponents’ stunned paralysis to abolish much of the existing French labor code, which, because of powerful labor unions, was designed to cater to the best-protected employees—especially those in heavy industry—and has long been skewed toward the interests of workers in general at the expense of greater flexibility and efficiency for private enterprise. Just how far does he mean to take this? Clearly, as far as he can.
The real question is whether Macron is ready to take on the unions or will seek to compromise with them. His approach to economic reform has been well known since his tenure as economics minister (2014–2016): a major deregulation of existing laws to allow employers to practice less “rigid” employment and hiring policies, including fewer restrictions on salaries and working conditions. These measures, he argues, are essential if there is to be a revival of the French job market. Employers, who are also asking for a freer hand in firing workers, claim these measures will bring a reduction in labor costs. The corollary to these ambitions, and the condition for their success, is a significant reduction of what remains of the unions’ power, already enormously diminished. (Fifty years ago, 22 percent of all employees were union members, while that number is currently 7.7 percent, according to the OECD).
When Macron tried to put these reforms into effect as economics minister under François Hollande, he encountered very strong resistance from the unions and from the public itself. After a series of protest marches and demonstrations, the law had to be issued by Prime Minister Valls, through a procedure designed to avoid a parliamentary vote, which it seemed quite unlikely to pass. Today the basic problem is much the same. The unions are so hostile to reforming the labor market because, behind the apparent “change,” it is possible to glimpse a policy that’s been at work for a long time already. Ever since 1984, all governments, right and left, have worked tirelessly to shatter administrative and legal “rigidity” with respect to hiring and firing. And yet, France’s steadily worsening joblessness has never been brought under control. Even worse, in France as in nearly all the rest of the Western world, inequality has become ever more deeply entrenched, in lockstep with the deterioration of middle-class purchasing power. It’s not hard to imagine, therefore, that the unions might once again be the front line of resistance to still more radical measures to deregulate the labor market.
Sunday, June 11, 2017
The Center for Contemporary Labour Law (CCLL) is a new labor-focused Center directed by Professor Giorgi Amiranashvili of Tbilisi State University in Tbilisi, Georgia. The goals of CCLL include (1) educational and scientific research activities, (2) dialogue & collaboration with all actors in the labor field, (3) consultative activities, and (4) collaboration with foreign experts and institutions.
Founding members include Prof. Amiranashvili, Prof. Dr. Andrea Borroni (Italy); Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vakhtang Zaalishvili (Georgia); Ph.D. Candidate Tornike Kapanadze (Georgia). Other members include Assoc. Prof. Dr. Elena Sychenko (Russian Federation); Prof. Dr. Francesco Bacchini (Italy); Prof. Dr. Roberta Caragnano (Italy); Dr. Marco Seghesio (Italy); Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nicos Trimikliniotis (Cyprus); Prof. Rick Bales (U.S.).
CCLL has hosted several lectures at Tbilisi State, including:
- Prof. Dr. Andrea Borroni & Prof. Dr. Francesco Bacchini on “The position of Labour law in the private law system”.
- Assoc. Prof. Dr. Elena Sychenko was held at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University on “The European Convention on Human Rights as a Source of Labour Law”.
- Mr. Kari Tapiola, Special Advisor to the Director General of the International Labour Organization, on “The Role of International Labour Standards in strengthening Social Justice and Economic Efficiency”.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
The Annual meeting of the ABA International LEL Committee just wrapped up in Dublin. I was pleased to be joined here by Laura Cooper (Minnesota), Marley Weiss (Maryland), and Ben Sachs (Harvard). Anyone interested in becoming involved in this Committee can contact me or any of these folks. Topics covered the gamut of LEL law and practice, and included:
- Ireland: The Changing Labor and Employment Landscape on the Emerald Isle
- Brexit, Trump and Beyond: How the New Political Landscapes in the U.S. and U.K. Will Impact Workplace Law around the World
- With Trump Towering in the U.S., How Will Labor & Employment Laws and Standards Change at Home?
- With the U.K. Exiting the EU and Similar Movements Gaining Ground Elsewhere, How Will Labor and Employment Laws & Standards Change Abroad?
- Globalization’s Impact on Labor and Employment Law: How the Issue Is Shaping the Workplace
- Enforcing Responsible Business Conduct in a Changing Political Environment
- Where the Work Gets Done: The Changing Climate for Corporate Decision-making
- Anti-Immigration Efforts in the U.S., U.K. and E.U. and Their Impact on Labor & Employment Law and Practice
- Hot Cross-Border Issues
- Please Mind the Gap: A Cross-Border Comparison of New Laws and Initiatives to Equal Pay
- Company Relocations and Restructurings: More Brexit Implications for Multinationals and their Workforces
- The Legal and Other Challenges to the “Gig Economy” around the Globe: What's the Score?
- Industry Day: Exploring Key Global Labor and Employment Issues in Three Industry Groups
- Pharma and Health Care
- Energy and Infrastructure
Friday, April 7, 2017
The book is the first Canadian text to explore in depth all three regimes of work law, including Common Law, Regulatory Law, and Collective Bargaining Law and it emphasizes the interaction between the three regimes. For those interested in understanding Canadian work law, this is the book. Also, you might be interested in knowing that the book was written to be accessible to non-lawyers, including the thousands of business, HRM, industrial relations, labour studies students learning work law in Canada. I wrote it because I frequently teach business students and there was no book in Canada that explained the law of work in a sophisticated, contextual manner but that doesn’t also assume the readers have already studied law for a year or two. Finally, the book also extends the subject matter beyond most labor law texts, by including chapters on subjects such as work and intellectual property law, work and privacy law, trade law, immigration law, and bankruptcy law.
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Guy Davidov sends us this update on the LLRN3Toronto conference:
The LLRN is a network of labour law research centers from all over the world (currently 65 centers). It holds bi-annual conferences which are open to all labour/employment/workplace discrimination law scholars. After two very successful conferences in Barcelona and Amsterdam, LLRN3 will be held at the University of Toronto on June 25-27 this year. The deadline for submitting papers has past, and the best paper and panel proposals have been selected through a peer-review process. The provisional program which has recently been published is extremely rich and includes many senior, well-known scholars alongside young up-and-coming ones, from across the globe. The organizers are keen on having more North American colleagues involved. For more information and to register please see the conference website. If you’d like to chair one of the panels, please contact the organizers.
Saturday, March 18, 2017
James Brudney (Fordham) has just posted on SSRN his article The Internationalization of Sources of Labor Law, 39 U. Pa. J. Int'l L. 1 (2017). The abstract is below. I think James is dead-on correct. Having attended a slew of labor conferences in the developing world recently, in both academic and governmental circles, folks are acutely aware of how their own country's labor laws measure up (or not) to ILO standards, and progress is defined as the incremental process of achieving those standards. Here's the abstract:
This article examines in depth an important but underappreciated development in international labor law: how norms promulgated by the International Labor Organization (ILO) have affected the development and implementation of domestic labor laws and practices since the early 1990s. The newly globalized focus of labor law—energized by substantial expansions in international trade and investment—has been recognized by scholars, practitioners, and governments, but it has not previously been explored and analyzed in this systematic way.
The article focuses on two central regulatory areas—child labor and freedom of association—and relies on doctrinal and policy developments in these areas, as evidenced by the actions of legislatures, courts, and executive branches in more than 20 countries. In doing so, the article addresses how international labor standards have influenced national labor law and practice in the Americas (excluding the U.S.)—directly through the soft-law route of convention ratification and ILO supervisory monitoring, and indirectly through trade agreement labor provisions that incorporate ILO norms. The resultant changes in domestic laws and practices have been evolutionary rather than transformative, and developments in law outpace those in practice, but within these parameters the changes have been substantial. The article then places this internationalizing trend in the context of two recognized theories that seek to explain the socialization of human rights law.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Paul Harpur (Melbourne) sends word that the Australian Government has announced the launch of a broad inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. The inquiry will consider whether the introduction of anti-slavery legislation would help combat supply-chain-based slavery and human trafficking. Paul explains:
Human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices are already criminal offences in Australia. Recent slavery-like practices in Australian supply chains has motivated a new inquiry.
the Australian Federal Attorney-General referred an inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia to the Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee of the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on February 15, 2017. The committee is tasked with strengthening and improving Australia's current regulatory regime to prevent slavery occurring in Australia and Australian natural and corporate persons engaging in slavery overseas. The Committee has called for submissions to be lodged by interested parties by 28 April 2017.
For more, see this discussion by the Australian law firm Allens.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Aaron Halegua (NYU) writes to give us the heads-up on a free, downloadable book by the ILO: Resolving Individual Labour Disputes: A Comparative Overview. Here's the ILO's description of the book:
The number of individual disputes arising from day-to-day workers’ grievances or complaints continues to grow in many parts of the world. The chapters in this book cover individual labour dispute settlement systems in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Each chapter examines and assesses the institutions and mechanisms for settlement of individual labour disputes, including the procedures and powers available, the interaction of these institutions and mechanisms with other labour market institutions (e.g. collective bargaining and labour inspection) and the broader system for resolution of legal disputes (e.g. courts of general jurisdiction, specialist commissions and tribunals).
And here's Aaron's description of the chapter he wrote on the U.S.:
I contributed a chapter on the United States, which I think provides a good overview of the role played by administrative agencies (USDOL, EEOC, NLRB, New York State DOL, NYS Division of Human Rights, etc.), federal and state courts, firm's internal efforts, and both labor and employment arbitration -- as well as how ADR is used in all those contexts. It also seeks to evaluate each one and pulls together statistics on the performance of each institution. I think that people already familiar with the United States might find the evaluation/statistics part and use of ADR in these institutions useful. I also think it would be particularly useful for people trying to understand our complex system with its web of overlapping institutions, or professors ... who might be teaching such students.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Susan Bisom-Rapp (Thomas Jefferson), member of the Marco Biagi Foundation Academic Advisory Board writes to let us know that annual conference in Modena, Italy is coming next month. the Fifteenth International Conference in Commemoration of prof Marco Biagi is entitled "Digital and Smart Work." Organized by the Marco Biagi Foundation at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, it will take place in Modena (Italy) on March 20th and 21st, 2017.
As usual, attendance to the conference is free. Further information, including the Conference programme and the registration form, is available on the Marco Biagi Foundation's web site, at the link:
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
The course is “International Labour Standards for Judges, Lawyers and Legal Educators”, and will take place in Turin, Italy, from 22 May to 2 June. Here's a brief description:
International labour standards are legal instruments that establish basic minimum social standards agreed upon by governments, employers and workers.
Our mission is to support the development of knowledge and skills to promote international labour standards (ILS) and rights at work, to strengthen their application and to advance the achievement of decent work for all women and men.
We do this by designing and implementing training and capacity development activities for constituents, ILO staff, partners and other national and international actors.
Monday, January 23, 2017
I've mentioned on Facebook that I've spent the last couple of weeks teaching at a Saigon labor college. I'm writing now to give an update -- and a heads-up to anyone who might be interested in either a short-term gig or a longer-term Fulbright here. Both, I think, would be terrific options.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Paul Harpur (Queensland) writes to tell us that an Australian disability wage-setting tool has been found discriminatory, and that the Australian government has agreed to pay 9,735 intellectual disabled workers entitlements which may reach $100 million AUD. Here's Paul's analysis:
An Australian government disability wage setting tool used to assess the wages of intellectually disabled workers who were employed in an Australian Disability Enterprise (a form of government subsidized employment) resulted in people with certain disabilities being under paid.
The tool in question, the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool, was used to determine how much each worker should be paid and if they were entitled to wage increases.
It was alleged that the imposition of the condition or requirement that wages be fixed using the tool amounted to indirect disability discrimination within the meaning of s 6 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth).
The tool fixed the amount of a wage by an assessment of competency and of productivity. The assessment of competency was made by reference to eight elements. Some of these competencies were irrelevant to the work actually undertaken by workers and the assessment processes relating to other competencies was flawed. The assessment processes used abstract answers in an interview situation with intellectually disabled workers. If workers did not provide a prescribed response they scored zero.
The Australian government accepted that this tool was discriminatory and has agreed to pay back wages for thousands of workers. The government introduced legislation to create a framework to repay wages in the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool Payment Scheme Act 2015 (Cth) (see also the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool Payment Scheme Bill 2014 (Cth) Explanatory Memorandum) and on 16 December 2016 the wage claims and discrimination claims by a class of 9,735 workers was approved by the Federal Court of Australia in Duval-Cowrie v Commonwealth of Australia (2016) FCA 1523. The length and size of these under payments are substantial and are estimated to cost the Australian government $100 million AUD.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
As someone who's about to guest-teach for a couple of weeks at a Vietnamese labor college, I've been more attuned than most on TPP post mortems. There is a lot of pro-labor language to like in TPP -- it could be a game-changer in SE Asia, where some of the most appalling labor abuses on the planet currently exist. Is TPP dead?
I'll go out on a limb and predict -- contrary to everything I've seen everywhere -- that TPP is alive and well. (1) Trump values business above all else, and global trade is good for business. I'd bet the ranch that he will negotiate a few minor face-saving adjustments, re-brand the entire treaty as a Trump initiative (the Trump-Pacific Partnership!), and throw his weight behind it. (2) The alternative to TPP is ceding SE Asia to China (both politically and economically). That would make Trump a loser. Trump does not want be a loser. Thus, I predict that, just as Trump has walked back several (though not nearly enough) of his more reactionary ideas, TPP goes forwarded by another name.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Congratulations to Susan Bisom-Rapp (Thomas Jefferson) and Malcolm Sargeant (Middlesex U. London) on the publication of their book Lifetime Disadvantage, Discrimination and the Gendered Workforce.Here's the publisher's (Cambridge U. Press) description:
- Lifetime Disadvantage, Discrimination and the Gendered Workforce fills a gap in the literature on discrimination and disadvantage suffered by women at work by focusing on the inadequacies of the current law and the need for a new holistic approach. Each stage of the working life cycle for women is examined with a critical consideration of how the law attempts to address the problems that inhibit women's labour force participation. By using their model of lifetime disadvantage, the authors show how the law adopts an incremental and disjointed approach to resolving the challenges, and argue that a more holistic orientation towards eliminating women's discrimination and disadvantage is required before true gender equality can be achieved. Using the concept of resilience from vulnerability theory, the authors advocate a reconfigured workplace that acknowledges yet transcends gender.
- Proposes a new model of lifetime discrimination suffered by women at work, leading to an holistic solution rather than the current incremental approach.
- Examining how the law approaches each stage of women's working life cycle allows readers to identify the disjointed incremental approach and see its disadvantages.
- Provides a new framework for discussing the issue of disadvantage that women suffer in employment.
Friday, October 21, 2016
Speakers at a workshop in Queensland predict that employers Down Under could soon see a sharp increase in employee requests to bring service animals to the workplace. Per Disability assistance animals or not? Problems in policy and practice workshop: Summary and Scoping Discussion Paper, with Paul Harpur, Martie-Louise Verreynne, Nancy Pachana, Peter Billings and Brent Ritchie:
Employers of the one in every five Australians that have disabilities could face increasing demands to bring "assistance animals" such as dogs and miniature horses into the workplace, a workshop heard recently.
Speakers at the workshop on the issue at the Queensland Supreme Court on September 27 said that recent court rulings and an uncertain regulatory regime have made it difficult to determine or challenge whether a worker is entitled to bring such an animal to work.
Former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes told the forum that four million Australians have disabilities that would give them protection under the Disability Discrimination Act.
Speakers at the workshop suggested while most of these people might not generally regard themselves as disabled, the existence of a medical condition usually enables such a person to assert they have a disability within the meaning of s4 of the Disability Discrimination Act.
They said it would be "relatively easy" for most of those people to claim an animal accompanying them was an assistance animal protected under section 9 of the Act, according to the chief investigator appointed by the workshop, Paul Harpur, a senior lecturer in the University of Queensland's TC Beirne School of Law.
A scoping paper circulated at the workshop – Disability animals or Not? Problems in policy and practice – said the Act defines assistance animals as those that are trained to help a person with a disability to alleviate the effects of their disability and to meet standards of hygiene and behaviour appropriate for an animal in a public place.
It said courts had interpreted the definition broadly to encompass "a self-trained dog that has not been accredited by a recognised disability training organisation".