A Workplace Framework for the Future

“Australia needs a visionary approach to workplace relations that rises above the ideological issues of the past and delivers a system that’s fit for the 21st century,” BCA Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott said.

In releasing the Business Council’s submission to the Productivity Commission’s workplace relations inquiry, Ms Westacott said: “The task of the Productivity Commission is to correct the problems of today, but more importantly be forward-looking to meet the needs of the future.

“We are living in a very different world now than only a few years ago, and our workplace relations system has to adapt. How people want to work is changing, and businesses need much more freedom and flexibility to make the decisions required to stay competitive and be productive.

“This includes changes to their business models, changes to rosters and contracting arrangements and the design of jobs to increase participation, innovation and productivity.

“The goal is to create more jobs in Australia for people of all ages, to help businesses be more successful in a competitive world, to unleash innovation and collaboration to drive productivity, and to create more flexible work arrangements so we can lift participation and enable faster change.

“These challenges require us to achieve a much better balance around what should be in a  mandated safety net, what should be negotiated through agreements between businesses and workers, and what are operational decisions that businesses should be free to make without being subjected to regulation,” she said.

The Business Council’s submission proposes a workplace relations framework for the future that includes:

•    More clearly identified and accountable safety net provisions which:

  1. Maintain the role of the Fair Work Commission in setting the minimum wage and penalty rates but under greater scrutiny and transparency.
  2. Maintain awards but reduce their number from 122 down to one for each industry sector and limiting awards to 10 clauses covering issues such as ordinary hours of work, wage classifications and accident pay.

•    Redefined and simplified processes and matters for negotiation:

  1. Refocusing the negotiation process back onto things which are fundamental to the employment relationship, such as allowances, leave arrangements, and remuneration.
  2. Ensuring good faith bargaining applies to greenfields projects, as it does all other agreements, and that fair agreements can be put in place after a prescribed time period if negotiation has broken down.

•    Removal of business and managerial decisions from regulation and negotiation.

  1. There is too much in the current system which regulates what should be an operational business decision, such as whether businesses can use contractors or not, how and who they hire, and when a business can shut down.
  2. These sorts of matters go to the heart of the capacity of businesses to respond to changing circumstances and business needs and should not be subject to regulation or negotiation.
  3. These decisions are also at the heart of productivity and competitiveness.

Additionally, the Business Council is proposing improved governance arrangements for the Fair Work Commission, including capped time appointments, appointments based on a more robust skills assessment, and an appeals mechanism to drive greater accountability and transparency.

“We have to move past the ideological nitpicking of the past and take a more forward-looking approach to workplace relations so we can get a system that endures for the next 20 years,” Ms Westacott said.

“The recent Intergenerational Report – which showed a decline in the proportion of people in the workforce in the years ahead as the population ages – underscores that we simply have to get more people into the workforce in coming decades.

“At the same time, companies need the flexibility to be able to change their business models to the new global challenges, so they can drive the innovation and productivity required to create jobs, pay higher wages and contribute to a stronger economy.

“Only a future-focused system, which is clearer about what is in a safety net, what is negotiated between workers and businesses, and what should be removed from regulation so companies are freer to make operational decisions can deliver the outcomes the whole community seeks,” she said.