Have your say on our workplace relations framework

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The long-awaited Productivity Commission inquiry into Australia’s workplace relations framework is underway, fulfilling an election commitment by the Federal Government for an independent review.

The Government has stated that any recommendations emerging from the inquiry that it supports will be taken to the 2016 federal election before implementation.

The task before PC Chairman Peter Harris and his fellow commissioner, economist Patricia Scott, is to review the impact of the workplace relations framework on matters including:

  • Unemployment, underemployment and job creation;
  • Fair and equitable pay and conditions for employees, including the maintenance of a relevant safety net;
  • Small businesses;
  • Productivity, competitiveness and business investment;
  • The ability of business and the labour market to respond appropriately to changing economic conditions and patterns of engagement in the labour market;
  • The ability for employers to flexibly manage and engage with their employees;
  • Barriers to bargaining;
  • Red tape and the compliance burden for employers;
  • Industrial conflict and days lost due to industrial action; and
  • Appropriate scope for independent contracting.

The terms of reference are indeed broad – on January 22, five issues papers were released to assist parties in preparing their submissions, canvassing a very wide range of issues. They deal with:

  1. The Inquiry in Context;
  2. Safety Nets (e.g. Minimum Wage, National Employment Standards, awards, penalty rates);
  3. The Bargaining Framework (e.g. enterprise agreements, industrial action, disputes);
  4. Employee Protections (e.g. unfair dismissal, general protections, anti-bullying); and
  5. Other Workplace Relations Issues (e.g. performance of WR institutions, compliance costs, role of competition law, right of entry; transfer of business).

Ai Group is currently preparing a detailed submission to the Productivity Commission calling for sensible changes to be made to the workplace relations system to increase flexibility, productivity and competitiveness, while maintaining fairness for all parties.

Among many other areas, we will be focussing on problems with the existing system which are commonly raised by our Member companies:

  • The breadth of the matters which can be included in enterprise agreements and pursued with protected industrial action;
  • Industry-wide pattern bargaining;
  • Excessive union power in the bargaining process;
  • The need to provide more scope for agreements to be reached between employers and individual employees on flexible work arrangements;
  • The need for more flexibility for enterprise agreements to be reached directly between employers and their employees, including greenfields agreements for new projects;
  • Addressing problems with the current transfer of business laws which are impeding restructuring and outsourcing; and
  • Tightening up the general protections laws which are currently too vague and uncertain.

Initial submissions are due by 13 March 2015, with the Productivity Commission to issue a draft report around June or July 2015. Parties will have an opportunity to make further submissions following the release of the draft report and to participate in public hearings.

We would like to encourage members to forward relevant examples, case studies and other input to Ai Group by email to Genevieve Vaccaro, our Senior Adviser – Workplace Relations Policy, on as soon as possible and by no later than 6 March 2015.

As always, your input will be a key foundation of our efforts on your behalf to restore balance to our workplace relations system. We will look forward to hearing from you.

Ai Group will be making further submissions later in the year and will be an active participant in the public hearings. The Productivity Commission is due to release its final report in November 2015.

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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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