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Obituary Prof. David Worland  (1941-2024)

Professor David Worland was a colleague and good friend whom I first met in early 1989 when I was hired to join him in the Department of Applied Economics at Footscray Institute of Technology (FIT), now Victoria University (VU). In this obituary, I focus only upon David’s professional life. I thank those that offered me information and apologise in advance for any omissions or mistakes.

When I joined FIT, it was the leading education institute for industrial relations in Victoria outside of the University of Melbourne.  David Worland had a long-standing commitment to the importance of education for workers, union officials and those living in the Western suburbs of Melbourne. Along with Professor Bob Ferris, he was instrumental in the establishment of industrial relations education at FIT, most notably the highly regarded Graduate Diploma in Industrial Relations which was later extended to a Masters programme.  In developing these programmes, David formed an advisory committee of industry experts based upon his wide network of contacts. These included Simon Crean (Australian Council of Trade Unions, later Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Opposition), Ralph Willis (local Federal politician, later Treasurer and Minister for Industrial Relations in the Hawke Labor Government), Len Coysh (Executive Director, Australian Federation of Air Pilots); Kevin Smythe (Human Resources/Industrial Relations Manager, Carbon Black) Max Ogden (then Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union) and Prof. June Hearn (University of Melbourne), as well as members of the then Victorian Industrial Relations Commission and Australian Industrial Relations Commission (now Fair Work Commission). 

The graduate program was extremely successful, with many of the graduates now holding senior positions in government, the private sector and unions. At least 4 times as many applications were received as places available throughout the 1980s and 90s. A set proportion of places were always made available for those with solid industry experience but without prior tertiary studies. The IR programmes eventually evolved into IR/HRM programmes, again with David’s typical foresight that recognised the changing dynamics of professional employment in the field.  As a path breaker in the field, David was well placed to recommend the appointment of young highly qualified academics, many of whom went onto senior positions in other universities. Prof. Stephen Deery, who moved to the University of Melbourne and later Kings College London, taught his first industrial relations subject at FIT.  On hearing of David’s passing, Stephen recalled how David had encouraged him to attend his first Industrial Relations Society of Victoria (IRSV) conference in Wangaratta in 1974, and had introduced him to a range of established figures in the IR field.  Prof. Michelle Brown (now at University of Melbourne) was mentored by David, as were Prof. Bernadine Van Gramberg (Chair, Academic Board, Federation University Australia) and Prof. Santina Bertone (Deputy Dean, Central Queensland University).

David believed in broadening students’ experience by encouraging international experts to spend time at FIT/VU. One of these was Prof. John Purcell (formerly at Warwick University). Following David’s passing, he described how Bob Ferris had invited him to be a visiting fellow in 1981. “I was then an industrial relations academic at Oxford University. David was asked to mentor me. Each day I would read the labour page in The Age and have a tutorial with David. He was terrific.  He was a good scholar, and I learnt a lot from him which I have used throughout my career.”  Typical of David’s down to earth style, he and John Purcell developed a life-long friendship, holidaying together with their families in France.  Another visitor was Derek Sawbridge from Durham University, as well as Profs. Peter Cressey (Bath University) and John Gennard (Strathclyde University). Also, Byron Yaffe, a highly regarded American labour mediator/arbitrator and University of Wisconsin academic visited VU on two occasions, sharing his expertise in alternate dispute resolution with graduate IR students. 

David’s interest in promoting critical thinking also extended to facilitating occasional public seminars involving international and local visitors to showcase best practice and challenge existing thinking.  His networks also became a part of his wide circle of friends.  Jim Simmonds (formerly Commissioner, FWC) recalled how David was a keen fisherman. “So keen he spent time with me in the highlands of Tasmania. On one occasion we were without power for 30 hours on the third day of summer. Believe it or not the outage was caused by a massive overnight snowstorm. He dealt with it with the good humour for which he was noted.”

David’s significant contribution was not limited to the development of courses in industrial relations; he was active in undertaking and promoting research. In the late 1980s, David led an important study into the labour market experience of workers retrenched from the nearby Williamstown dockyards.  He also established the Workplace Studies Centre at VU, a research centre run successfully for over a decade by Prof. Santina Bertone.  David drew upon his industry networks to access industry research funding.  I joined David in two research projects funded by Incolink, the Victorian Building Industry Redundancy Fund. The second of these analysed sick leave patterns across the building industry, and provided the foundation for the Victorian Building Industry Portable Sick Leave Scheme, the first of its kind in Australia. 

David was a strong supporter of the IRSV.  He was a member of the Executive Committee for several years in the early 1980s and became President in 1985. These were the heady days of industrial relations, when union membership was above 50% of the workforce, the IRSV produced monthly newsletters and an occasional monograph series, IRSV functions regularly had over 100 attendees, and there was sufficient engagement for members to attend 2-day State conventions in addition to the biennial National Conference. He actively encouraged colleagues at FIT/VU to become involved, with most IR academics at VU holding executive positions during their time working with David. As Professor Marilyn Pittard (Interim Dean, Faculty of Law, Monash University) observed, “David was a kind gentleman and a wonderful stalwart of the IRS…”.  In 2023, David Worland was awarded Life Membership of the IRSV.  He passed away on 21st January 2024. Vale David.

Dr. Elsa Underhill,

Visitor, Deakin University,

Life Member, IRSV

Former IRSV Vice-president.



ABN 90 846 072 316


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