States back national IR report, but business rejects it


States back national IR report, but business rejects it

Queensland and NSW have welcomed a new report which recommends a national IR system giving the states maximum flexibility, but employer groups reject it.


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Queensland and NSW have welcomed a new report which recommends a national IR system giving the states maximum flexibility, but employer groups reject it.

The report, by Professor George Williams, suggests a system where states can opt in or out, and either refer their IR powers to the Commonwealth or enact parallel legislation. It would also mean that the national IR laws could not be changed without the agreement of a majority of the states.

The report was commissioned by the NSW State Government, whose IR Minister John Della Bosca said it provided a way of getting the industrial relations system right.

Fair and equitable, says Della

‘Fair and equitable workplaces are best achieved through a system that allows for a national standard but also recognises the importance of local knowledge and compliance,’ he said.

Queensland Industrial Relations Minister John Mickel said the new system had merit.

Qld: A real chance for national system

‘The plan represents for the first time a real chance at developing a unified system that benefits employers and employees because it is fair, balanced and involves all the states and territories, as well as the commonwealth,’ Mickel said.

‘An industrial relations system based on Professor Williams’ plan would see the creation of a cooperative, national system that does not require a general referral of the states’ industrial relations powers.

‘Such a system would have enough flexibility to allow the states to retain chosen areas and matters and participate in the shape and future of the system so that it benefits everyone involved.’

Mickel said he appreciated the fact that states would be given a choice of mechanism for how they want to participate.

‘This could be done either by adopting uniform legislation and/or by referring power to the commonwealth to enact specific legislation which would operate as commonwealth legislation in the state,’ said.

‘Too complex’ say employers

However the NSW Business Chamber has rejected the Williams plan, saying it is ‘complex’ and ‘hybrid’.

‘As a national economy, Australia should have a single, national system of workplace relations, that is simple, stable and which fosters greater investment and our ability to be internationally competitive,’ said Kevin MacDonald, Chamber CEO.

‘The Federal Government should resist pressure from the states to create a complex, hybrid national workplace relations system.

The states should recognise that the High Court ruled on a national system based on the corporations power, and it is now operating.’

MacDonald said the workplace relations system and how it is regulated is now properly the province of the Federal Government.

‘State concerns about WorkChoices also are no longer relevant given the change of government and change in Federal policy, so the states should get out of the Federal Government’s way,’ he said.

‘Business is already working with the new Government to ensure its new system can continue to deliver Australian businesses flexibility and productivity.

‘We have more confidence in the Federal Government regulating in this area than in getting common and unanimous agreement from eight different state and territory Governments.’

‘Unproductive’: BCA

The Business Council of Australia, in its submission to Professor Williams, said the model which has now been recommended would still lead to unproductive and inefficient differences between the states.

Williams response

Speaking on ABC Radio’s AM program, Professor Williams said the time was right for a new national industrial relations system.

‘Essentially my idea is that it’s beyond time that Australia moved to a single, national system of industrial relations,’ he said.

‘We do need national standards to cover the very basic issues of employment.

‘But equally what my report recognises, we need to maintain a role for the states and the territories and the enforcement of those laws.

‘In a sense, that national standards combined with local knowledge to produce the most efficient and effective industrial relations system for Australia’s future.’

Support from Rudd, Gillard

Both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and IR Minister Julia Gillard have restated their support for a national IR system.

Rudd told the Nine Network that the compliance burden on small business of dealing with differing state and federal systems is too great

‘That’s why we, in partnership with the states and territories will be moving towards a uniform national system,’ he said.

He says good progress has been made in pursuit of that goal.

Eliminate confusion

Gillard said a national industrial relations system would eliminate confusion for small and medium sized businesses, and make life simpler for business owners.

‘If you are developing a small business you’re quite likely to be bound by state industrial relations laws,’ she said.

‘Then as you get bigger you might incorporate a company, then you become bound by federal industrial relations laws.

‘Now often people on that journey of building a business don’t even realise that they’ve gone over the dividing line.’

Gillard has referred the Williams report to a special unit in her Department charged with implementing a national IR system. She will discuss the report at the upcoming Workplace Relations Ministers Council in Melbourne.

‘Can’t pull it off’: Opposition

Opposition workplace relations spokeswoman Julie Bishop says she would welcome a national system, but doubted the Minister Julia Gillard can ‘pull it off’.

‘Kevin Rudd has promised a truly national workplace relations system,’ she said.

‘The only way Julia Gillard can deliver on that promise is for her to convince the state Labor governments to refer their industrial relations powers to the Federal Government.’


The Australian Democrats today urged the Coalition to co-operate with Labor to achieve consensus on a lasting and sustainable system.


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