By Alexandra Marriott
Despite many detailed cases for change presented by VECCI and many other businesses and associations, Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans has definitively ruled out making any changes to the Fair Work Act to reduce the burden on business.
Speaking at the ACTU’s national conference on Wednesday, Senator Evans left no-one in any doubt about the Federal Government’s stance on industrial relations reform.
“The Government has no intention of making major changes to this legislation. The Act has only been in operation since July 2009 and many of the provisions have not been utilised or fully explored,” Senator Evans said in his speech.
The Minister said the Fair Work Act provided a more than adequate framework for employers to achieve the outcomes they sought from workplace agreements.
“Employers must take advantage of the opportunities to drive productivity gains through their enterprise agreements,” Senator Evans said.
“Failure to achieve these outcomes is less a reflection on the provisions of the Act and more an indication that the parties are yet to have fully explored the mechanisms and opportunities available to them.”
Senator Evans said the Fair Work Act had created tangible results, such as a decrease in days lost in industrial disputes, and a record number of enterprise agreements.
However the Minister fails to take into account the many shortcomings of the Fair Work Act which have been consistently present during its two years of operation.
Many businesses are:
- Unclear about their rights and responsibilities under the Act, as demonstrated during the recent floods in Victoria and Queensland
- Are increasingly unsure about important employment decisions
- Have less flexibility in their hiring options, with some employers discouraged from hiring as a result of ‘modern’ awards
- Are devoting more time to administrative requirements and dealing with red tape than under previous legislation and
- Are dealing with more frivolous unfair dismissal claims, which many employers preferred to settle via payouts than via Fair Work Australia, even when adhering to dismissal laws.
We do not seek to deny the positive changes the Fair Work Act has ushered in, but to deny there’s scope for further improvement is tantamount to burying your head in the sand.
At a time when Australian productivity is nose-diving, there’s a clear case for modifications to be made to the Fair Work Act that will reduce the administrative burden and facilitate flexibility – and therefore drive greater productivity.
With the Labor Government stubbornly refusing to bend, it’s vital that the Coalition present some viable industrial relations alternatives to promote and take to the next election.
Senator Eric Abetz, the Liberals’ workplace relations spokesperson, said the party will be taking a new policy to the next election, after being spooked out of proposing any new ideas during last year’s election campaign.
VECCI will be continuing to put forward a business case for change to both the Government and Opposition over the coming weeks and months.