By Nicholas Hartman
Three Liberal Party backbenchers have written an op-ed in the Australian Financial Review calling for industrial relations reform.
MPs Jason Falinski, Tim Wilson and Andrew Bragg begin their piece by stating that “Australia should never give up on creating an industrial relations system that boosts wages and jobs”.
‘Industrial relations reform is often seen as untouchable because of the involvement of powerful vested interests,” the MPs write. “But inaction also comes at a price.”
Noting that the current industrial relations system, the centrepiece of which is the Fair Work Act, hasn’t been altered since it was introduced ten years ago, the MPs write that it’s time for the Liberal-National Coalition to get back on the industrial relations horse.
“Recently, we asked the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to conduct a primer on the current industrial relations system and how we got here,” they write.
“Seventeen Coalition MPs and senators attended to refresh or learn about the basics of the system that has been largely untouched since Julia Gillard was industrial relations minister more than a decade ago.”
The MPs continue, adding that they see industrial relations reform as an ongoing and pivotal part of being a Liberal Party member.
“Neither the organisers nor presenters had a specific agenda,” the MPs continue, referring to the industrial relations primer.
“It was recognition that many of the next generation of Coalition parliamentarians are not veterans of the industrial relations battles of the 1980s and 1990s. Coalition MPs instinctively understand the importance of industrial relations as core to the economic health of the nation – but it has not been their professional pursuit.”
The MPs claim that the current IR system isn’t bringing the productivity and flexibility that even Julia Gillard argued for in her second reading of the Fair Work Bill in 2008.
The then-prime minister said that “we need employees to have confidence that their pay and conditions are secure; we need a truly national workplace relations system; and we need a system that develops productivity and flexibility.”
Without offering any concrete solutions, the MPs round off their article by claiming that collaboration and enterprise bargaining are on the decline, and that awards “dominate”.
They offer stats such as there being “a constant stream of around 15,000 cases before the Fair Work Commission at any one time”.
They also claim that “there is currently one enterprise agreement involving a major construction company that has not been completed after seven years of negotiation and legal argument. It has been before the Federal Court twice, and was last seen two years ago in the Fair Work Commission.”
“The system lacks collaboration, pragmatism and fairness; much less being an aid for productivity.”