The exceptionalism of Australian industrial relations has long been asserted. In particular, the Australian system of industrial arbitration has been argued to contrast markedly with other countries, such as Britain, which developed a more ‘voluntarist’ model of industrial regulation. However this distinction relies upon limited historical research of workplace-level developments. In this paper, we focus on a comparative analysis of employer practice in British and Australian workplaces during the first half of the twentieth century. While we find some differences in the nature and extent of management control between the British and Australian experience, what is more striking are the strong similarities in employer practice in work organisation, employment and industrial relations. While economic and institutional factors explain differences in employer practice, fundamental similarities appear to relate to the close economic and social linkages between British and Australian business.