Achieving Workplace Collaboration Is a Job Not Yet Done

Australia risks slower economic growth without a greater focus on preventing disputes in the new industrial relations system, BCA Chief Executive Katie Lahey says.

The BCA discussion paper, Embedding Workplace Collaboration: Preventing Disputes, was launched today. It is the first in a series exploring more collaborative approaches to workplace relations.

The paper argues the opportunity should be taken to give Fair Work Australia or the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman a stronger role in preventing disputes. Failure to do so would represent a missed opportunity to help workplaces and boost economic growth over the years ahead.

Ms Lahey said the government must now look closely at whether the system’s dispute prevention role can be strengthened.

“If the new system is to work, it must guard against attempts to disrupt constructive workplace relations. The new system needs to do all it can to prevent disputes and promote workplace collaboration.

“Australia’s economic challenges go beyond the current downturn. We must find new ways to push through the headwinds of declining productivity, population ageing, and technological and other forms of intensifying global competition,” Ms Lahey said.

“We will need new levels of workplace cooperation to meet these serious challenges. We must not get bogged down in the mud of industrial relations disputes in our drive for higher growth.”

The paper’s primary author is Associate Professor Anthony Forsyth, Director of the Workplace and Corporate Law Research Group in the Department of Business Law and Taxation at Monash University.

Dr Forsyth finds that the structures of the workplace relations system are important in guiding behaviours and setting expectations of future behaviour.

The paper shows how workplace relations agencies in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and the United States have extended their traditional arbitration and conciliation roles.

It notes that workplace relations agencies in those countries assist parties to build positive employment relationships, focusing on dispute prevention rather than dispute management.

“The Fair Work Act is based on an assumption that workers and employers will come together and bargain around new enterprise agreements in ‘good faith’,” Ms Lahey said.

“But the Act leaves a lot of room for this term to be misunderstood or misused.

“At a time of economic uncertainty and significant global challenges, there is a real risk of a return to strongly adversarial approaches as new workplace agreements are struck.

“Such a development would threaten the capacity to link productivity and rewards at the enterprise level. This would undermine the ability for Australia to maintain or raise the living standards we expect relative to other countries around the world.

“The BCA calls on the federal government to look at the important contribution overseas agencies make to workplace collaboration and how they might be adapted to Australia’s new system.

“The government’s stated commitment to cooperation and productivity needs to be matched by properly resourced initiatives aimed at moving workplace relations parties away from the adversarial approaches of the past.

“We cannot afford to lose the advances already made over two decade of workplace reforms,” she said.

Embedding Workplace Collaboration: Preventing Disputes