Ron McCallum and the Importance of Labor Law

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Last night I had the distinct pleasure and honor of meeting Professor Ron McCallum and hearing him speak at the University of Sydney. Professor McCallum is arguably Australian's most eminent labor law professor. He is the recipient of many awards, including the Senior Australian of the Year 2011, and is the first totally blind person to have been appointed to a full professorship at an Australian university. He is currently serving on a select committee to review Australia's central piece of labor law, the Fair Work Act.

Among many insightful points (including the tremendous importance of teaching), Professor McCallum indicated that he was drawn to labor law because of the deep importance of work for individuals and society (hear, hear!). He went on to emphasize the importance of educating lawyers to see the principles of workplace justice and fairness that labor law seeks to achieve. This is a very important issue.

I don't know anything about legal education in Australia, but in the United States there is much more emphasis on the written words in statutes than on the socio-economic context in which the laws are enacted and on the socio-economic goals that a relevant piece of legislation seeks to achieve. For example, the National Labor Relations Act is not simply about specifying what managers, union leaders, and workers can and cannot do during organizing campaigns, bargaining sessions, and strikes. Rather, it is ultimately about trying to promote workplaces that are efficient, equitable, and respectful of employee voice. We would all do well to heed the lessons of Professor McCallum's distinguished career and remember the importance of justice and fairness in labor law.

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About this Blog

Whither Work? is a blog about work created by John Budd. I am a professor of Work and Organizations in the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, and the author of several books including The Thought of Work. Follow me on Twitter: @JohnWBudd.