Business “disappointed” again by Government backdown on IR laws review

Associations and business groups have slammed the Federal Government’s abandonment of talks on IR laws, as the Employment Minister casually announces it will pull the teeth from the Productivity Commission tiger.

Following an announcement to the AFR that he was surprised at the Commission’s decision to investigate penalty rates and the minimum wage, Senator Eric Abetz said in a statement to Fairfax that “the government will leave the responsibility of setting modern awards, including penalty rates, and the minimum wage with the Fair Work Commission. That’s the way it remains under the Coalition”.

The Commission finally began its long-awaited review last month, with chief Peter Harris quoted as promising the spotlight on Australia’s workplace laws will “bust myths”.

Stephen Ferguson
Stephen Ferguson

Australian Hotels Association chiefs have been fighting a battle on several fronts to see through the Productivity Commission’s review, and have expressed their grave consternation at the development.

“We welcomed the Productivity Commission’s review into workplace relations, and understood it would look at a wide range of issues, covering penalty rates, ‘BOOT’ test (Better Off Overall Test), and unfair dismissals,” AHA National CEO, Stephen Ferguson told PubTIC this morning.

“We are already in discussion with the Productivity Commission, and will be lodging our submission on 13 March. It is disappointing to now hear it was never the intention of Government to have a full review of the system and outcomes.

“The review is now restricted to the systems and processes of the Fair Work Commission itself. Unfortunately, the Fair Work Commission is a stand-alone agency, with no formal review structure above it.

“Essentially, we believe it was healthy for the workings of a Government agency to be reviewed by a 3rd party, and it’s disappointing that the parameters of the enquiry have now been curtailed.

“Given we have just lodged our draft variations to the Award, and that we’ll have to place arguments before the Commission this year, it becomes difficult to enter into a process where the only outcome being offered is one where we are criticizing the Commission.”

Ian Horne_cropped_LR
Ian Horne

South Australia has sought greater flexibility in IR, to account for businesses with the potential to help the State pursue its tourism goals, but that struggle under the current system.

“It seems that in the current toxic political environment any attempt to discuss industrial relations is shouted down and talk of possible alternatives deliberately demonised,” AHA SA CEO Ian Horne told PubTIC.

“Sadly, Australian business has been corralled into an IR structure that assumes all hotels are the same, with the same capacity to pay. It assumes the same work practices suit all – whether an international property in The Rocks, or a mum and dad pub in regional Australia.

“There is nothing modern about Australia’s current ‘modern award’ structure.”

Brad Woods
Brad Woods

The AHA WA’s Bradley Woods remains pragmatic, insisting “change is inevitable” and hopeful that the Commission’s findings will still have an effect.

“The Productivity Commission will release its own independent report and Australian tourism and hospitality industry believes that the outcomes of that review will be significant for future IR Reform,” Woods told PubTIC.

“It is still a valuable process to ensure Australia remains competitive in the international tourism market.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry represents 300,000 businesses, and expressed disappointment at the Government’s back-down, stating “we hoped the government would do what they said they were going to do”.

“Obviously we are disappointed by the minister’s comments prior to the Productivity Commission report coming down,” said chief executive Kate Carnell. “It seems to be politically inspired and it seems they don’t want to have that debate with the union movement.”

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