01 February 2016

Industrial relations reform set to be key election battleground

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It seems like only yesterday that Kevin Rudd won the Prime Ministership on a wave of distrust and anger over the Howard Government’s Work Choices Industrial Relations legislation. As history would go on to show, then Prime Minister John Howard became the first sitting Prime Minister in 100 years to lose his seat.

At each election since the spectre of Work Choices has been raised, with then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declaring Work Choices was “dead, buried, cremated,” in the lead up to the 2013 election.

With the Trade Union Royal Commission concluded, and Federal Employment Minister Senator, The Hon. Michaelia Cash taking legislation back to the Senate to resurrect the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the first moves on reform of Australia’s labour laws have begun. The Government wants the legislation passed by March and will introduce it to the lower house as its first order of business when Parliament resumes on Tuesday.

While the resurrection of the ABCC has already been voted down in the senate six months ago, the Minister has been working with the cross-bench to obtain the support needed to see the legislation pass.

In December 2015, the Productivity Commission released its long awaited report into Australia's Workplace Relations System, outlining several key areas the commission feels could be implemented to repair the current system.

“Contrary to perceptions, Australia’s labour market performance and flexibility is relatively good by global standards,” the report states in its key points. “ Strike activity is low, wages are responsive to the economic cycle and there are multiple forms of employment arrangements that offer employees and employers flexible options for working. Set against that backdrop, Australia’s Workplace Relations system is not dysfunctional – it needs repair, not replacement.”

While much has been written about the Government’s focus on reducing Sunday penalty rates, there is very little, as yet, of substance to give the market an indication of where a Turnbull Government would head in the way of Industrial Relations reform.

On Monday, February 1 Opposition Leader Bill Shorten released part of the IR policy the Australian Labor Party will take to this year’s election. Mr Shorten highlighted the need for tighter penalties for employers who underpay their workers or engage in unscrupulous practices.

Mr Shorten said that high profile cases such as 7-Eleven, Pizza Hut and Myers were just the tip of the iceberg, with the Fair Work Ombudsman recovering more than $22 million in back pay for more than 11,000 workers in 2014-15.

While there is still some time before the 2016 election, with Industrial Relations reform once again the focus of both parties it is important for Australian businesses to ensure they are across the various ideas being floated by both parties.

Akolade in conjunction with the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is bringing it’s Workplace Relations Practitioners Forum to Melbourne, 22nd-24th March 2016 to examine the key issues effecting today’s labour market and delivering strategies to minimise conflict and increase employee morale.

Tickets for this sell out event are selling fast. With only limited tickets remaining to secure your seat click here.

Mike Cullen has recently returned to Akolade after a period as the conference producer for one of Australia's leading economic think tanks. Mike began working in the conference industry in 2007 after looking for a career change from the high pressured world of inbound customer service. Mike has worked for some of the most well-known conference and media companies in the B2B space and in his spare time is working on his first novel in a planned Epic Fantasy trilogy. Mike’s first published work will be the short story Seeds of Eden, in the Sproutlings Anthology scheduled for release in March 2016.

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