FW Act can’t do much about productivity: commentators

Analysis

FW Act can’t do much about productivity: commentators

Fair Work legislation has only a limited impact on productivity in Australian industries according to commentators at a recent seminar.

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Fair Work legislation has only a limited impact on productivity in Australian industries according to commentators at a recent seminar.

The seminar was held in Sydney by the NSW Chapter of the Australian Labour Law Association on 3 September on the topic: ‘Reflections on the Report of the Fair Work Act Review Panel.’

The two speakers were solicitor Neil Napper from Landers & Rogers, a law firm that generally represents employers, and Tim Ayers, secretary of the NSW Branch Secretary from the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union. Peter Punch from law firm Carroll &O’Dea chaired the seminar and also offered some comments on the topic.

Neil Napper  . . . on the Review Panel report
 
Some key points made by Napper in relation to the report were:
  • Despite being a well written document, no-one is happy about the report so implicitly this ‘may suggest that the report is reasonably even-handed’.
  • Many of the recommendations are technical in nature and do not seek to address the bigger policy/political questions.
  • Fair Work Legislation and Fair Work Australia in its rulings have limited impact on productivity — broader issues are in play in relation to productivity and many non-IR elements come into the picture.
  • Of the 53 recommendations made, the Panel’s report focused on the safety net (14 recommendations), and enterprise bargaining generally (15 recommendations), while unfair dismissal was the subject of 8 recommendations.
  • There were essentially no recommendations on arbitration or the role of Fair Work Australia in this respect.
Napper concluded by saying that if it comes to a choice, the system should promote jobs over rights — ‘rights are good but jobs are better’ — suggesting that the over technical application of employment rights may sometimes have to be compromised in order to maintain people in work.

Tim Ayers  . . . on the Review Panel report
 
Some key points made by Ayers in relation to the report were:
  • The review was not balanced. Factors such as industry restructure is more relevant, not labour law, to Australia’s economic future.
  • Enterprise bargains are generally registered without industrial action taking place so the parties do not rely on the enforcement powers of the tribunal to reach agreement.
  • Innovation and good management are critical to economic development.
  • Good business relies on good leaders and this is where Australian businesses should be focusing.
  • When the tribunal’s help is needed, it should be meaningful and arbitration should be possible, instead of allowing the system to stifle a resolution. Ayers noted the Cochlear dispute in this respect.
  • Unfair dismissals rarely cost employers anything like the reported sums of $60,000 plus.
  • Evidence based research is needed to properly understand Australia’s productivity issues. Productivity should not be a central topic for Fair Work Australia.
  • Industry level solutions are needed to develop Australian businesses.
Arbitration
 
Both Napper and Ayers were supported by Punch in saying that there should be some arbitration mechanism built into the system.
 
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