Politics and self-interest hinder workplace reform: ACCI


Politics and self-interest hinder workplace reform: ACCI

Politics and self-interest are the main impediments to a reasoned national discussion of workplace relations laws, according to the head of a major employers’ organisation.


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Politics and self-interest are the main impediments to a reasoned national discussion of workplace relations laws, according to the head of a major employers’ organisation.

Peter Anderson, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) told the Workforce Conference the preference of the Labor Federal Government was to see the legislative changes it made in 2007–08 ‘largely set in concrete’ or be allowed to operate without change for a longer period.

‘Conversely, the temptation for the political Opposition is to see its route to government complicated by having to address a “WorkChoices-style” fear campaign should it forecast or propose material change,’ Anderson said.

‘Concern about job losses and softening labour markets also rings hollow on both sides of politics if workplace laws remain a no-go zone.’

Be mature
Anderson said Australia must be mature enough to conduct an honest national discussion and assessment of issues that affect our economic and industrial way of life, no matter how controversial.

‘Doing otherwise is a disservice to our national interest and our own sense of reason,’ he said.

‘It is a good thing that our nation is again starting to discuss workplace relations and the rules and regulations that govern Australian employment.’

‘This is because neither our economy nor labour markets are static. As they change, so must policy and regulatory systems.’

Anderson said institutional players in the workplace regulation system are conferred varying degrees of power by the system itself.

‘This includes tribunals, unions, and in some cases businesses or business organisations,’ he said.

Analysis needed
‘In some cases those powers or authorities are warranted,’ he said.
‘However, if protection of that power or a desire to extend it becomes paramount to the broader interest then it is an impediment to merit based analysis.’

‘A winner takes all approach is also damaging to both workplace regulatory frameworks and day to day labour relations in workplaces.’

‘The policy framework should be based on what is right, what reflects real-time realities in workplace relations, not what is expedient industrially or politically.’

Anderson said labour productivity ‘is what pays our way’, and it has been poor to very poor for a decade.

‘Just as it is right to say that things other than industrial relations such as investment in skills, infrastructure and regulatory and tax reform can do much to lift sluggish productivity, it is equally the case that workplace rules and industrial relations behaviour impacts labour productivity, for better or worse,’ he said.

Softening labour market
‘Economic circumstances facing the business sector have materially changed since the current fair work laws were devised in 2007–08 — not the least of which is the impact of the global financial crisis, the significant appreciation of the Australian dollar and what is now a softening labour market.’

Anderson said the main areas of concern with the Fair Work laws were:
  • excessive award regulation
  • one size fits all rules
  • collective bargaining being process driven with poor outcomes
  • extension of the right to strike.
‘Strikes sap productivity,’ Anderson said.
‘The first thing the government should do is seek leave to appear in the Federal Court litigation in the JJ Richards Case and affirm its view that the law requires bargaining processes to be exhausted before a majority of employees can activate a lawful strike.’

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