Fair Work review kicks off with five issues papers


Fair Work review kicks off with five issues papers

The Productivity Commission has released a suite of five issues papers, commencing its wide-ranging, public inquiry into the performance of Australia’s workplace relations framework.


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The Productivity Commission has released a suite of five issues papers, commencing its public inquiry into the performance of Australia’s workplace relations framework.

In late December 2014, the Federal Government directed the Commission to undertake a wide-ranging review of – and consider possible improvements to − the workplace relations framework, including the Fair Work Act 2009.

The issues papers cover the key aspects of the framework including the minimum wage, awards, penalty rates, unfair dismissal, bargaining, the compliance burdens of the system, and the performance of the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The Commission is seeking feedback on the issues papers from employees, employers, unions, the unemployed and others by 13 March 2015.

A draft report is scheduled for release mid-year, after which there will be a further round of public consultation, including hearings. The Commission is then expected to provide the Australian Government with its final report, containing recommendations, by 30 November 2015.

For further information, including the issues papers and the terms of reference for the inquiry, and to make submissions, head to the inquiry webpage on the Commission’s website.

Responses: politicians, unions and employers

The following comments have been made by politicians, unions and employers:

Minister for Employment, Eric Abetz described the inquiry as a “once in a generation” opportunity to review Australia’s workplace relations system and encouraged all interested parties to share with the Productivity Commissions their experiences of the system, “both good and bad”.

Brendan O’Connor, the Shadow Minister for Workplace Relations expressed a concern that the inquiry was a “blueprint” for a Coalition revival of WorkChoices. He called on the Federal Government to immediately rule out an assault on workers’ wages and conditions.

David O’Byrne, national secretary of United Voice said the union is concerned the inquiry revives the possibility that the Coalition could reintroduce WorkChoices before the 2016 election, and that employers will use the opportunity to pursue their goal of abolishing penalty rates to the disadvantage of “the workers who give up their weekends, usually so that the rest of the community can better enjoy theirs”.

Ged Kearney, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) accused the Federal Government of initiating the inquiry to “take workers backwards”, but promised unions would take the opportunity to advocate for improvements to minimum and award wages, and to reduce poverty and inequality.

Innes Willox, Chief Executive, Australian Industry Group welcomed the inquiry, particularly the wide range of issues canvassed by the issues papers. He said it was necessary for the shape of the bargaining system, the role of the minimum wage, penalty rates, and numerous other aspects of the workplace relations system to be analysed and debated sensibly.

Dr Mikayla Novak, Senior Research Fellow at think tank the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) hopes the inquiry will be the first step towards the eventual abolition of the statutory minimum wage: “The economic evidence is clear – the minimum wage costs jobs, excludes vulnerable people from the workforce, and reduces living standards.”

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) welcomed the inquiry and said it must be acknowledged that the current system “has made it harder and more costly for businesses in some sectors to maintain or create jobs, and harder for business to respond quickly to increasing global competition” and that it “doesn’t give businesses enough flexibility to tailor employment to the needs of their enterprise or the needs and preferences of modern workers”.

Kate Carnell, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) said the review as an opportunity to address “major flaws” in the Fair Work Act that are driving up unemployment and undermining growth, and that “excessive penalty rates and the minimum wage must not be no-go areas” for reform. She added, “ If we are going to turn around increasing unemployment in this country we must honestly look at all the workplace reform options – including greater flexibility when it comes to working what have been traditionally called unsociable hours and the option to use individual agreements”.
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