Statutory norms and common law concepts in the characterisation of contracts for the performance of work

Pauline Bomball*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)


    While the relationship between statute and common law has attracted increased interest in the labour law field, limited attention has been directed at exploring this relationship in cases involving the characterisation of contracts for the performance of work. The characterisation of a work contract as an employment contract or an independent contract carries significant consequences in a number of different contexts, including tort law, employment law and taxation law. Many Australian statutes invoke the common law concept of employment as a criterion by which to confer rights and impose obligations. In determining whether a contract is one of employment and thereby covered by the relevant statute, Australian courts have not generally had regard to the purposes of the statute. However, in some Australian cases, it has been suggested that statutory purpose can, and should, guide the characterisation exercise. This article explores that suggestion, focusing particularly on statutes that confer rights and entitlements upon employees. In doing so, it draws upon decisions of the Supreme Courts of Canada and the United States that have adopted a 'purposive approach' to the employment concept. This article seeks to begin a conversation about the utility and viability of a purposive approach to the employment concept in Australia. It does so by canvassing the arguments in favour of a purposive approach and identifying some of the primary barriers to the adoption of such an approach by Australian courts.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)370-405
    Number of pages36
    JournalMelbourne University Law Review
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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