Challenges ahead in australian workplace relations


Challenges ahead in australian workplace relations

As mentioned in HR Link 199, the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business recently addressed the Industrial Relations Society of Australia, 1999 National Convention.


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As mentioned in HR Link 199, the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business recently addressed the Industrial Relations Society of Australia, 1999 National Convention. The Minister spoke to the Convention on the "Facts, Myths and Challenged of Australian Workplace Relations". This edition of HR Link brings into perspective what the Minister regards as the challenge for Australian Workplace Relations, a challenge that very much appears to take the shape of the 'third wave' of reforms.

In the Minister's opinion there is a need to consider the challenges that lie ahead with, what he describes as a "determined eye" to the public interest. The Convention was implored to recognise that Workplace Relations is all about what employers and employees do at the workplace. It may be influenced by legislation, arbitration and tribunals, but ultimately the focus of workplace relations must be the workplace or enterprise. Therefore, the Minister believed that the "...combined challenge, even in periods of hotly contested debate, is to focus our attention on the workplace and give its participants the primacy in our decisions."

The challenge that befalls Victoria and the new minority Bracks' Government then became the focus of Ministerial comment. Mr. Reith was critical of the proposal to re-create a completely new Victorian State industrial relations system at the cost of $23 million dollars to Victorian taxpayers. According to the Minister - "Adding cost, complexity and bureaucracy is the wrong way to go if we are to focus on outcomes for the people that matter."

To this end, the Minister sought to initiate public debate over an idea floated earlier this year, that being the notion of moving to a harmonised national system by way of judicious use of the Commonwealth's Corporations Power. The Corporations Power enables the Commonwealth to regulate companies trading in various States. It is envisaged that the Corporations Power could be used to replace separate State and Federal industrial relations systems with a single unified regime. The benefits to employees and employers, according to the Minister, would include:

  • a nationally coherent framework;
  • a simpler and more secure safety net of minimum wages and conditions; and
  • an end to the complexity and cost created by paper disputes, ambit logs, notional interstateness and dual registration of organisations.

Under one national industrial relations system, the Minister assured the convention that there would be a continued role for awards, the Commission, industrial organisations and the focus of the system would

remain at the enterprise level. In seeking to have the debate progress amongst practitioners and interested parties, the Minister indicated that the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business would be establishing a project team to further develop the proposal of harmonising Federal and State industrial relations systems. At this stage, Mr. Reith was of the opinion that the issues that need to be examined by the project team are:

  • the key operational features of such a system;
  • the implications for the States;
  • the legislative implications (in regard to registered organisations and freedom of association);
  • the international perspective;
  • the cost of current and possible future arrangements;
  • the state of play on harmonisation between the federal and state systems; and
  • the transitional arrangements in the event of moving to a Corporations power based system.

A series of discussion papers on these issues should be available in the early New Year.

With employers and employees in individual workplaces, very much the central focus of the system, the Minister concluded that the 1996 Act had changed the framework of Australian Workplace Relations, in an economically sensible and socially responsible manner. In the Minister's opinion the new framework has resulted in "...more productive and competitive workplaces, fewer disputes and more diverse, secure and rewarding jobs." However, the Mr. Reith warned that there is no room for policy stagnation. Even though the second wave of policy reforms are yet to see the light of day, debate must commence on the merits of a harmonised system.

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