Focus on IR deregulation, workplace in ACCI blueprint

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Focus on IR deregulation, workplace in ACCI blueprint

A push for a unitary IR system is one of a number of controversial reforms outlined in the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s IR blueprint released today.

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A push for a unitary IR system is one of a number of controversial reforms outlined in the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s IR blueprint released today.

The document, ‘Modern Workplace: Modern Future’, was launched this morning in Canberra only a day after federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott introduced four new pieces of IR legislation, including one which attempts to take away the states’ powers when it comes to ruling on unfair dismissals (see 364/2002).

It laments the incremental change that has taken place federally under the Howard Government, saying labour market reform has been frustrated by an unsympathetic Senate, legal opposition by unions, lack of management leadership, decisions by industrial tribunals and re-regulation of state IR systems. This left Australia sitting ‘uncomfortably between two systems’.

The vision

The ACCI blueprint rejects the notion of adversarial or ideological conflict between employers and workers, and advocates a system that gives full recognition to shared interests.

It lists a number of desired outcomes for the next eight years, tied to less employment regulation, linking wages ‘overwhelmingly’ to productivity and performance, flexible working arrangements and enterprise-based decision making and dispute resolution.

The blueprint also advocates a federal Minimum Conditions Act, increased use of collective and individual agreements in the one workplace, and minimising formal requirements for the making and approval of such agreements.

While advocating the harmonisation of state and federal IR laws and tribunals, along with restricting the growth of discrimination laws, the blueprint also puts the case for term appointments for new AIRC commissioners and the possibility of using part-time or seconded commissioners.

It also wants an expanded role for the federal Employment Advocate, who ACCI says should be able to certify individual and collective agreements in workplaces where both co-exist, or in workplaces where employers and workers choose to have the Advocate certify agreements, rather than the AIRC.

In response to recent debate and case law over the inclusion of union fee clauses in agreements, it recommends rendering such fees unlawful.

The blueprint adopts the controversial ‘opting out’ model for best practice employers, as initially advocated by the Australian Mines and Metals Association (see 105/2001 and 141/2000) and pushes for greater use of contract labour.

Paid maternity leave is another issue taken up, with the document arguing that a ‘mandatory burden’ should not be imposed upon employers.

The blueprint advocates ‘commercially responsible steps’ being taken by individual employers and governments to protect entitlements in the event of insolvency.

This would ‘further minimise the incidence of unpaid entitlements, whilst employees and the community would have a greater appreciation of the inherent risks to investment, jobs and entitlements of business insolvency’.

Other suggestions include:

  • A ‘more rational’ interface between the industrial, tax, welfare and superannuation systems;
  • Industrial tribunals increasingly providing voluntary conciliation and mediation services, and private or voluntary arbitration;
  • Awards operating only as a minimum safety net;
  • Minimum legislated standards on core employment conditions replacing the need for most awards, and those awards becoming simpler;
  • Compulsory arbitration restricted to disputes seriously affecting the economy and public interest.

ACCI says it has released the blueprint as a vehicle to encourage community debate. It is also undertaking policy research into occupational health and safety; rehabilitation and workers’ compensation; employment services; education; training and skill development; transition from school to work and the ageing population.

The blueprint is available on the ACCI website.

 

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