No-action Coalition leaves IR in dismal state, say employers

The Australian, April 10, 2018

The Coalition’s lack of action on workplace relations has left ­industrial relations policy in a dismal state and business ­increasingly frustrated, a leading employer group says.

In a speech to be delivered in Brisbane today, Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox will say the government has allowed the Productivity Commission’s report into workplace relations, handed to the ­Coalition in November 2015, to “gather dust”.

He says he ­expressed frustration on behalf of employers three years ago but at least there had been the prospect then of some positive workplace policy changes.

“Perhaps I should have been a little more upbeat three years ago, given the current dismal state of Australia’s public policy debate about workplace relations, and how much more frustrated employers have become about the lack of action from our parliamentarians on changes to drive ­increased productivity and competitiveness,’’ he says.

“After all, standing still means that you are really going backwards as the world around us pushes on.”

He said the Fair Work Act ­increased union power and ­employee entitlements in a number of areas. “To date, the ­Coalition government has not pursued substantial amendments to the act to restore a more appropriate balance,’’ he says.

“The most significant amendments that have been made since the Coalition government was elected are the ‘vulnerable worker’ reforms. These amendments increased maximum penalties for employer breaches of awards and record-keeping requirements by up to 20 times and introduced many new obligations upon ­employers.”

Mr Willox will devote most of his speech to criticising ACTU calls to change the Fair Work Act, accusing union leaders of being prepared to junk achievements under Bob Hawke and former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty.

He says proposals by ACTU secretary Sally McManus to change the workplace laws are “designed to create a utopian environment for militant unions”. “The ACTU want us all to ­believe that giving unions more power to organise strikes and to force employers to cave in to their job-killing destructive demands is just the medicine that the community and our economy needs,’’ he says. “Their arguments, many of which appear to be unresearched, naive, and purely attention-seeking, are, more often than not, breathtakingly simplistic and just plain wrong.”

Mr Willox says union leaders appear to be “seduced by the siren song of class-warfare rhetoric rather than seeking to be constructive in the national interest”.

“The ACTU’s attempts to ­re-imagine the past and discredit the Fair Work Act need to be seen for what they are — a push for even more union power at the community’s expense,’’ he says.

He will hit out at a proposal for unions to have the ability to bargain across whole industries and supply chains, including the right to take industrial action. “If the ACTU got its way, unions would be able to make unreasonable claims and potentially cripple whole industries and supply chains until employers capitulated,” he will say. “We would see a return to the bad old days of the 1960s and 70s.”