Employers clamour for IR changes, but Labor rejects return to AWAs

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Employers clamour for IR changes, but Labor rejects return to AWAs

The call by the Australian Industry Group for major changes to the Fair Work Act have been backed by other employer groups, but key elements of the changes they seek have been rejected by a senior Federal Government Minister.

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The call by the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) for major changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 have been backed by other employer groups, but key elements of the changes they seek have been rejected by a senior Federal Government Minister.

Ai Group chief executive Heather Ridout said the Act was strangling productivity and flexibility and needed to be changed.

Resource industry group AMMA, which has campaigned on the issue for some time, called on the government and opposition to participate in an urgent review of the IR laws that ‘are inhibiting business and sapping productivity across the country’.

Unsustainable wage inflation
 
AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said the Fair Work Act in its current form ‘has undermined productivity, created unsustainable levels of wage inflation and handed significant powers back to unions to the detriment of workplaces and the economy’.

‘The Labor Government has stubbornly refused to acknowledge the problems with the IR laws despite growing evidence from across the resource and construction sectors that there are significant problems.’

‘We’ve heard a few platitudes from the opposition on an IR policy alternative identifying some minor changes, but nothing substantive at this point, which has been disappointing.’

He said an AMMA survey showed:
  • 82.6% of respondents had not been able to negotiate productivity improvements in
    exchange for wage increases.
  • 45% said union involvement in the workplace was ‘unhelpful’ or ‘extremely unhelpful’.
  • 42.5% said problems on their worksites due to union actions had increased.
  • 37.3% were expecting wage increases in their next agreement to blow out significantly.
  • 29.3% had experienced flow-on effects to their enterprises from recent wage and allowance
    outcomes in the offshore oil and gas industry.
Time to modify laws
 
ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson said the most pressing issue for the business community was for ‘the government which created the fair work laws being able and willing to modify them to meet its own productivity and efficiency goals, without stone-walling or waiting for an election’.

‘Concern about job losses and softening labour markets rings hollow if workplace laws remain a no-go zone,’ he said.

‘The government underestimates the frustration small and medium business have with the labour cost rises flowing from the modern awards.’

‘The government’s failure to meet its promise not to increase these costs is compounded by the fact that penalty rates rose due to a reorganisation of regulation and not via a merit based review of penalty rates in service industries by Fair Work Australia.’

‘The government could, and should, take some sting out of this issue by supporting merit based hearings as part of the next modern award review by the tribunal.’

The small business organisation COSBOA chief executive Peter Strong said his members did not want to go back to WorkChoices.

WorkChoices ‘was for big business’
 
‘WorkChoices was a system designed by big business for big business, and as always small business was an afterthought,’ he said.

‘The current Fair Work system is designed by the big end of town, the big unions and AIG [Ai Group] in particular, to suit their needs and even AIG [Ai Group] now says the system has failed.’
 
‘We want a system of our own that is simple to understand, rarely changes and reflects reality not philosophy. A system designed for people, including those who run their own business and those that work in small businesses. Give us a simple system and productivity and transparency will increase.’

AWAs rejected
 
However, Trade Minister Craig Emerson has flatly rejected a move back to individual agreements.

‘Labor won’t be going back to AWAs,’ he said.
 
‘AWAs were actually used to strip away penalty rates, pay and conditions for working Australians.’

 
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