Employers angry at ‘missed opportunity’ in FW Act review

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Employers angry at ‘missed opportunity’ in FW Act review

Business and employer groups have expressed disappointment with the limited changes to the Fair Work Act recommended in the review report released yesterday, claiming more amendments are required to stop the economy stalling.

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Business and employer groups have expressed disappointment with the limited changes to the Fair Work Act recommended in the review report released yesterday, claiming more amendments are required to stop the economy stalling.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said he was ‘heartened that the core conclusions of the panel, is that our Fair Work laws are working well and as intended’.

‘We shall now talk, as we do, with industry, employees and their representative, about these suggestions of the panel, directly.’
 
‘But right from the outset, nobody should be in any doubt, that the review does not recommend sweeping changes and that the independent advice is that the substance of the laws introduced by Labor two and a half years ago are operating as intended.’

Scathing criticism: BCA
 
However, Shorten’s satisfaction at the outcome is not shared by business, which has been scathing in its criticism that the reviews’ recommendations do not go far enough.

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) said the review panel had ‘failed to come to terms with the fundamental challenge of supporting Australia’s competitiveness in a vastly changed economic landscape’.

BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said that even if all the recommendations are adopted, the system would remain overly complex.

However, Westacott said the BCA was pleased the panel had recommended changes that require unions to seek a majority determination before using protected industrial action to force enterprise bargaining.

Bitterly disappointing: ACCI
 
ACCCI said it was ‘bitterly disappointing that the panel has taken a “wait and see” approach’.

‘The economy and flagging productivity don’t wait for bad regulations to catch up or for courts to fix them,’ said chief executive Peter Anderson.

‘The price for waiting is weaker businesses and weaker job security,’ he said.

‘It takes a Pollyanna view of the industrial relations system, especially its hope that union problems experienced by employers will cure themselves. History tells us they don’t and won’t.

‘The claim that poor productivity isn’t badly enough impaired by the fair work system to make changes is reckless.’
 
‘The panel’s recommendations, even those that propose minor changes, don’t fix areas where the system has not worked as the government promised industry it would.’

Falls short: Ai Group
 
Innes Willox chief executive of the Australian Industry Group said the biggest problem with the Fair Work Act Review report ‘is that in virtually all of the key areas, the recommended changes fall short of what is necessary to address the big problems with the Act’.

‘It is vital that the Government not make the same mistake when it releases its response to the report,’ he said.

‘The big priorities for the Fair Work Act Review were widely identified by the Australian Industry Group and other major industry representatives.’

Willox said they included:
  • more tightly defining the issues that can be included in enterprise agreements
  • stopping unions holding employers to ransom over greenfields agreements for new projects
  • implementing a more effective framework for Individual Flexibility Arrangements
  • fixing the poorly drafted general protections and transfer of business laws.
‘While changes were proposed in most of the key areas, the changes are inadequate to address the big problems which are occurring,’ he said.

ACTU will resist changes
 
The ACTU said the review had found the current laws are working well and delivering fairness, and unions would vigorously defend any further attacks on workers’ rights.

‘In the wake of this report, unions maintain the view that any further changes to workplace laws should improve job security, rights and protections for Australian workers, not hand more power to employers,’ said ACTU president Ged Kearney.

‘Any move to reduce workers’ rights would be completely at odds with the report’s overall conclusions.’

Kearney said unions would be steadfast in their opposition to any push to implement recommendations from the report that would:
  • restrict proper access to dispute resolution, including arbitration
  • restrict collective bargaining (including rights to take protected industrial action)
  • undermine the right to organise and be represented by a union
  • expand the use or scope of individual flexibility arrangements
  • promote the use or scope of unfair individual contracts
  • reduce unfair dismissal protections for Australian workers.
Panel ‘stacked’: Abetz
 
Opposition IR spokesman Eric Abetz said Australian taxpayers should demand the return of the $1 million spent on the report, saying it was ‘a major letdown’.

‘Having stacked the panel and skewed the terms of reference, ex-union boss, Shorten, ensured the Fair Work Act was delivered a clean bill of health,’ he said.

‘Members of the Review Panel were hand-picked by the government and included a former Labor adviser and others who had made glowing favourable comments about the laws on the public record.’

‘Secret documents obtained under FOI show that Bill Shorten deliberately wound back the terms of reference against the advice of his own Department and the independent Office of Best Practice Regulation.’

‘Incredibly, the Minister removed reference terms that dealt with “flexibility and balancing the needs of employees and employers” and those that would examine if the laws had ‘reduced the compliance burden on business”.’
 
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