Academics give Govt a ‘fail’ on IR reforms report card

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Academics give Govt a ‘fail’ on IR reforms report card

A major academic ‘report card’ on the Federal Government’s IR reforms shows they will not improve the fairness of work for most employees and are also likely to have no direct positive impact on economic productivity or jobs growth - in fact they may send Australia backwards.

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A major academic ‘report card’ on the Federal Government’s IR reforms shows they will not improve the fairness of work for most employees and are also likely to have no direct positive impact on economic productivity or jobs growth - in fact they may send Australia backwards.

It says the reforms will damage the fabric of Australian society.

Seventeen of Australia’s leading academic researchers in industrial relations and labour market issues today released the first comprehensive, independent, expert analysis of the Government’s proposed changes to workplace laws.

The report says the Government’s proposals will:

  • Undermine people’s rights at work
  • Deliver flexibility that in most cases is one way, favouring employers
  • Do - at best - nothing to address work family issues
  • Have no direct impact on productivity
  • Disadvantage the individuals and groups already most marginalised in Australian society

A key finding of their research, released at a forum at Sydney University, is that the Federal Government’s industrial relations proposals represent the most significant changes to industrial relations in Australia for 100 years.

Despite this, the researchers say the Government’s plans ‘will not improve the fairness of work for most employees and are also likely to have no direct positive impact on economic productivity or jobs growth’.

The researchers include Prof Ron McCallum, Dr Marian Baird and Prof Russell Lansbury, University of Sydney; Prof Mark Bray, University of Newcastle; A/Prof Rowena Barrett, Monash University; Prof David Peetz, Griffith University; Prof Peter Saunders, University of NSW and Dr Patricia Todd, Uni of WA.

Major results of the independent analysis include:

  • The right of employees to bargain collectively will be compromised by Government plans to increase the power of employers to force employees onto individual contracts. Australia is the only OECD nation which does not provide a legal protection for the right of employees to bargain collectively.
  • Government proposals will effectively abolish Australia’s safety net of award conditions and minimum wages - leading to greater wage inequality and less protection for low paid workers.
  • Casual work and job insecurity will worsen. Australia already has very high rates of casual work among OECD nations and yet there is no evidence that more flexible forms of employment lead to greater productivity.
  • The benefits of the Government’s proposals for the Australian economy in terms of higher productivity and significant increased jobs growth are highly questionable. Overseas evidence indicates, in fact, that Australia’s system of collective bargaining has delivered strong positive benefits to our economy.
  • Families will be adversely affected by the Government’s proposals which fail to address work/family balance issues. Government welfare reform plans will also have a negative impact on sole parent families.

The report says there are at least four critical labour market challenges facing Australia today:

  • Labour and skill shortages exacerbated by an ageing population
  • The productivity slow-down
  • Work/family tensions
  • The growth of low-paid, precarious employment

‘On the overall evidence available from this wealth of research, there is simply no reason to believe that the Federal Government’s proposed changes will do anything to address these complex economic and social problems,’ it says.

‘They will, however, damage the fabric of Australian society by encouraging poorly-paid jobs with irregular hours and little security, worsening work/family balance.

‘The focus of the Federal Government policy is to give employers power over employees instead of promoting innovative solutions based on workplace partnerships’.

Prof Russell Lansbury, Professor of Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney said that a century ago Australian policy makers and citizens established the basis for the current workplace relations system in order to strike a balance between the needs of employers and employees.

‘The Government’s proposals will upset this balance,’ he said.

‘The Howard Government would do well to learn from past experience that industrial relations policy is more than creating a competitive economy but ensuring social cohesion and fairness is achieved for the long-term prosperity and stability of Australian society as a whole - and not just for a small minority.’

The report can be viewed on the University of Sydney website.

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