Unions representing faculty staff internationally have attempted to use collective bargaining as a means of making it a legal reality. At the same time, higher education has grown rapidly in almost all countries since the 1960s. Higher education has moved from a small, relatively elitist and self-managed education and research system in many countries to its current status as a large industry offering mass education. Higher education must now constantly meet the perceived needs of economic policies, the labour market and education, which have been facilitated by the increased use of market mechanisms and private contributions, both students (tuition fees) and businesses (to finance research). Formal changes since 1990 retain prices (although they have lost most of their social functions and are increasingly recovered). However, they add at least three other regulatory flows: (a) agreements (registered) with unions with a single employer; (b) agreements (registered) with a single employer with a group of workers organized outside the unions; and (c) registered individual contracts. These additional regulatory flows are based on individual companies and have introduced an essential element of decentralisation – and an essential element of an improved employer force – into the regulatory system. The Labor government sponsored the addition of the first two flows, arguing that they were a new system of enterprise bargaining to complement traditional rewards. In its first Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Act of 1996, the coalition government revised and strengthened the provisions on non-union agreements and introduced the third stream of individual contracts registered under the Title Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs). The 2005 labour election laws consolidate this framework and aim to expand the electricity benefiting from individual registered agreements. In addition, it uses corporate power in the Constitution to extend the federal system to the detriment of state systems.

This expands the scope of the federal system to approximately 80 per cent of all employees and supersedes some of the more generous provisions and procedures that are available through government procurement and state agreements and laws.