Strike Ballots, Democracy, and Law

Breen Creighton, Catrina Denvir, Richard Johnstone, Shae McCrystal, Alice Orchiston

Research output: Book/ReportBookResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The purpose of the research upon which this book is based was empirically to investigate whether the ballot requirements in the Fair Work Act do indeed impose a significant obstacle to the taking of industrial action, and whether those provisions are indeed impelled by a legitimate ‘democratic imperative’. The book starts from the proposition that virtually all national legal systems, and international law, recognise the right to strike as a fundamental human right. It acknowledges, however, that in no case is this recognition without qualification. Amongst the most common qualifications is a requirement that to be lawful strike action must first be approved by a ballot of workers concerned. Often, these requirements are said to be necessary to protect the democratic rights of the workers concerned: this is the so-called ‘democratic imperative’. In order to evaluate the true purpose and effect of ballot requirements the book draws upon the detailed empirical study of the operation of the Australian legislative provisions noted above; a comparative analysis of law and practice in a broad range of countries, with special reference to Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States; and the jurisprudence of the supervisory bodies of the International Labour Organisation. It finds that in many instances ballot requirements - especially those relating to quorum - are more concerned with curtailing strike activity than with constructively responding to the democratic imperative. Frequently, they also proceed from a distorted perception of what ‘democracy’ could and should entail in an industrial context. Paradoxically, the study also finds that in some contexts ballot requirements can provide additional bargaining leverage for unions. Overall, however, the study confirms our hypothesis that the principal purpose of ballot requirements - especially in Australia and the United Kingdom - is to curtail strike activity rather than to vindicate the democratic imperative, other than on the basis of a highly attenuated reading of that term. We believe that the end-result constitutes an important study of the practical operation of a complex set of legal rules, and one which exposes the dichotomy between the ostensible and real objectives underpinning the adoption of those rules. It also furnishes a worked example of multi-methods empirical, comparative and doctrinal legal research in law, which we hope will inspire similar approaches to other areas of labour law.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
PublisherOxford University Press, USA
Number of pages298
ISBN (Print)9780198869894
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameOxford Labour Law
PublisherOxford University Press


  • Constitutional protection of the right to strike
  • Democracy
  • Fundamental human rights
  • International labour organisation
  • Pre-strike ballots
  • Strikes

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