By Nick Hartman
Industrial relations reform isn’t needed. That’s according to The Australian columnist Katrina Grace Kelly, who argues that the Fair Work Act has provided unheralded stability in the work place arena.
“The Fair Work Act has been in place for a decade, and consider what it has bequeathed,” Kelly writes.
“Stability; years and years of moderate wages growth, declining industrial disputation over the longer term, private sector union membership at an all-time low and an enterprise bargaining system (thankfully) shrinking by the day.”
Kelly is writing in response to recent calls for industrial relations reform, answered by the Morrison government last week.
Christian Porter, Minister for Industrial Relations released a statement early last week noting that he and his government are looking at even-handed reform that will “benefit the economy”.
Primarily, there have been two changes flagged. One is for more pro-business unfair dismissal laws, and another is for a law to make de-registering a union easier. Kelly rejects both arguments.
“Unlike some unions and their pet employer groups, ideology and workplace relations do not mix well. In the public arena, there are always voices calling for industrial relations reform,” Kelly writes.
“When you put these to the test by asking exactly what is needed, the usual response is an embarrassed muttering about penalty rates in cafes and how hard it is to sack people.”
“Ironically, and just as an aside, it has been terrifically amusing of late to observe those usually demanding legal change to make it easier to dismiss workers vociferously demanding legal change that will make it harder to dismiss workers — by virtue of their support for a high-profile footballer, recently sacked,” Kelly continues, making a reference to ongoing unfair dismissal case between Israel Folau and Rugby Australia.
Kelly goes further, explaining that she believes the Fair Work Commission’s unfair dismissal team to be “outstanding” – “there are fewer than 11,000 unfair dismissal cases a year, and the vast majority…are finalised…within about five weeks of employment termination,” she writes.
“In the 2017-18 year, commission data shows that 263 cases were arbitrated, 23 reinstatements occurred, 104 cases were dismissed, 159 were granted a win and some are still pending. I ask again; what is the exact problem we are trying to solve?”
Kelly does admit that the system needs improvement as “every system does”.
However, the founder of Employsure, Australia’s largest workplace relations consultancy, agrees with Kelly only on this last point.
“The Federal Government’s announcement that it would review workplace relations is a welcome step towards creating a fairer and more efficient system for small business owners,” founder and Managing Director Ed Mallett said. “It will come down to action, and settling on a program that drives reform.
“This is a chance for the Government to deliver real change in the workplace relations. Reform can sometimes be met with resistance, but if we can have constructive conversations with all parts of the labour sector I’m confident we can find a way to reform that benefits everyone.
“It will take vision and leadership to deliver those changes, but these are the conversations we need to have.”