IR reform blocked by politics, says Ai Group head

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IR reform blocked by politics, says Ai Group head

There is a danger that politics is overtaking sensible discussion about necessary workplace reform, Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox has told a mining productivity summit.

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There is a danger that politics is overtaking sensible discussion about necessary workplace reform, Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) chief executive Innes Willox has told a mining productivity summit.

‘The long shadow of WorkChoices means we are in danger of a 2013 election that produces no meaningful discussion of workplace relations and how to do better,’ he told the Australian Mining Productivity and Competitiveness Summit.
 
Willox said Australia ‘can’t afford such a silence at the very heart of the productivity debate’.

He said there are a number of problem areas in the workplace relations laws that continue to be raised as barriers to improving workplace productivity.

Willox said the major areas include:
  • the need for a more workable structure for Individual Flexibility Arrangements
  • bargaining laws that have encouraged unions to pursue restrictions on the use of contractors and labour hire, increasing disputes and reducing flexibility
  • transfer of business laws, which have made it extremely difficult for them to restructure and outsource work, impede their competitiveness
  • general protections laws, which have encouraged speculative termination of employment claims, have increased their costs and reduced their ability to maintain a high performing workforce
  • laws, which have given the unions too much power, have led to more industrial disputes and less workplace harmony.
‘I think many will agree that the last year has been particularly disappointing for those of us seeking sensible improvement in these areas,’ Willox said.
 
Worrying signs about changes

Over recent months we have seen the Australian Government announce a number of major changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 to increase employee rights and entitlements.

‘We appear to have reached a tipping point where there is a danger that politics is overtaking sensible discussion about necessary workplace reform.’

Willox said there were some ‘worrying signs’ about changes to greenfield agreements.

‘The Government appears to be giving oxygen to the idea that unions should have the right to force companies into arbitration over greenfields agreements and during “protracted bargaining”,’ he said.

‘Giving unions this power would be very damaging and needs to be rejected.’

Willox said the second round of changes to the Fair Work Act, introduced into Parliament last month, is ‘very lopsided’.
 
‘It does not even attempt to strike a balance in addressing issues of concern to employers and unions.’

He said the Bill expands the entitlements of employees and unions in numerous areas including: union right of entry, bullying claims, award penalty rates, the right to request flexible work arrangements, parental leave, hours of work and rosters.

‘Employers’ issues of concern are not addressed in the Bill, and the absence of any attempt to achieve a balance by addressing some of them is glaring,’ Willox said.
 
Significant impacts on business and jobs

‘Also, many of the Bill’s provisions are problematic and would have significant impacts on business and jobs’.

Willox said the Bill has been referred to two Parliamentary Committees and Ai Group’s position is that the Bill in its current form should be rejected.

‘Rushing important industrial relations legislation through in the lead up to a federal election is not appropriate,’ he said.

‘Instead of this Bill, what is needed is legislative change to achieve a more flexible, productive and fair workplace relations system; a system that would better meet Australia’s needs in the current risky economic environment.’
 
‘We are not asking for the Fair Work Act to be scrapped altogether, but rather that some sensible changes be made to address obvious problems.’

‘To leave all the big issues in the too hard basket for much longer can only risk damaging our national competitiveness and the prospects for key sectors of the Australian economy.’
 
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