Australian competitiveness: Breaking down the barriers

barriers

Now that the Productivity Commission has released a 1,000-page draft report and recommendations as part of its review into Australia’s workplace relations framework, the Federal Government’s response will be watched very closely – it has stated that any PC recommendations it agrees with will be taken to the 2016 Federal Election before implementation.

Earlier this year, Ai Group filed a detailed submission arguing that the workplace relations system is imposing barriers to productivity improvement, competitiveness and investment, and is not providing the adaptability that employers and employees need. We made the case that to remain competitive in global markets, Australian businesses need to be nimble and flexible. Our businesses need to be in a position to rapidly respond to market changes and to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.

Our submission focussed on the key problems that employers have identified with the current workplace relations framework and changes that would make a real difference in improving productivity, competitiveness and employment growth, while preserving fairness for employers and employees.

In our media release in response to the draft report, Ai Group stated that we believe it lays the groundwork for a community discussion about the shape of Australia’s workplace relations system and the changes that are needed to remove barriers to productivity improvement, competitiveness and investment.

Several of our proposals have been adopted in the draft recommendations, including the following:

  • It would be unlawful for enterprise agreements to contain restrictions on independent contractors, labour hire and casuals;
  • Enterprise agreements would be prohibited from restricting the terms of individual flexibility arrangements;
  • Employers would have more protection against frivolous and vexatious general protections claims;
  • The current system of 4 Yearly Reviews of Awards would be abolished;
  • Lower penalty rates would apply on Sundays in the retail, hospitality, café, restaurant and entertainment industries;
  • A cap on compensation under the general protections would be implemented;
  • The Fair Work Commission would have more power to deal with unfair dismissal matters which do not meet jurisdictional requirements “on the papers”;
  • An employer would have the option of having a greenfields agreement approved for a new project where agreement has not been reached between the employer and union/s after a period of negotiations;
  • Protected industrial action would be banned until the commencement of bargaining by mutual consent or through a Majority Support Determination;
  • Enterprise agreements would not become binding on the new employer in a transfer of business situation if the employee initiated the transfer of employment to the new employer.

Ai Group is preparing a detailed submission in response to the draft report which needs to be lodged by 18 September. Members are encouraged to express their views. We will also be participating in the public hearings in early September. The Productivity Commission is due to release its final report in November 2015.

What aspects of the PC draft report, and which of our recommendations, resonate the loudest for your business? Share your thoughts below.

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Stephen Smith
Ai Group's Head of National Workplace Relations Policy, Stephen Smith is responsible for workplace relations policy development and advocacy. He regularly represents industry’s views to governments and opposition parties, and in numerous inquiries and major cases. He is Special Counsel for, and Chairman of the Board of, Ai Group Workplace Lawyers, a national law firm operated by Ai Group.

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