Watson: unhealthy current climate for IR reforms

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Watson: unhealthy current climate for IR reforms

The chances of constructive reforms to the Fair Work Act are slight because the various parties seem to be in no mood to collaborate, Fair Work Australia Vice President Graeme Watson says.

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The chances of constructive reforms to the Fair Work Act 2009 are slight because the various parties seem to be in no mood to collaborate, Fair Work Australia (FWA) Vice President Graeme Watson says.

Mr Watson was addressing the Fair Work Summit, held in Sydney yesterday, 28 May 2012, by IIR Conferences. He commented that now should be a good time to build worthwhile reforms. There is now general acceptance of a federal workplace relations system based on the corporations power, supported by an adequate safety net, the second highest minimum wage level in the world (behind the Netherlands), limited scope for industrial action and consensus that ‘productivity’ needs to improve.

However, the submissions to the review of the Act (due to be submitted this week), are mainly focused on technical details instead of overall improvements. Employer groups have lodged detailed submissions seeking more restrictions on bargaining and opposing the general protection provisions, while unions are basically seeking the opposite. Arguably, these are not big issues in the overall picture, which should be a goal of wealth creation, not ‘them versus us’.

What’s preventing reforms?
 
Watson nominated several issues that are acting as barriers:
  • The current rather toxic political climate, which sees each side using workplace relations simply to attack the other side.
  • Another consequence of this climate is that ‘good news’ stories tend to be overlooked, and only conflict is getting wide media coverage.
  • ‘Reform fatigue’ on the part of both employers and unions, having had to deal with both WorkChoices and the Fair Work legislation over the past six years, with the possibility of further changes to come.
  • ‘Productivity’ has been stagnant for about a decade, but too often attempts to improve it focus purely on reducing costs. Watson argued that if employees are truly engaged at work, they will actively look for ways to reduce costs.
In summary, Watson said that while there is a need for greater flexibility in the workplace relations system there is no ‘silver bullet’ answer. He suggested there is an opportunity for the parties to acknowledge the existing common ground they share and build improvements from it.

Further information
 
Further information about the Fair Work Summit is available from IIR Conferences.
 
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