Fair Work Act Review Must Be Used as Opportunity to Shore up Australia’s Competitiveness

There is still time for the Fair Work Act review to be used as an opportunity to ensure our workplace relations system supports Australian businesses stay competitive in a rapidly changing world, Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott said.

“The review panel has recommended some incremental improvements but has failed to come to terms with the fundamental challenge of supporting Australia’s competitiveness in a vastly changed economic landscape,” said Ms Westacott.

“Even if all the recommendations are adopted, the system would remain overly complex and won’t support businesses and their workers to adapt quickly to a very different and difficult competitive environment.”

Specifically, Ms Westacott said the BCA was pleased the panel had recommended changes that require unions to seek a majority determination before using protected industrial action to force enterprise bargaining.

She said it was disappointing the panel has not provided businesses with more capacity to make decisions about the use of contractors and labour hire agencies to manage peaks and troughs, and the needs for specialist skills.

On greenfield sites, while the review has recommended access to arbitration for deadlocked negotiations, it has rejected the proposal for employer only agreements where unions fail to engage in good faith bargaining.

“The panel is also recommending that the greenfield site employer enter into negotiations with any union that may cover any future employee on the site.

“Not only does the approach fail to address employers’ concerns about the time it takes now to determine site agreements – it makes it even more complex and time consuming.

“We cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that the successful delivery of this major investments pipeline is now driving the Australian economy,” she said.

Ms Westacott said that having provided a great deal of information to the review panel on companies’ experiences of the Fair Work Act, the BCA would take the time to fully assess the report and respond in more detail in the course of the government’s consultations.

“What really counts is how the government responds to the panel’s report and whether the Act is improved so that businesses can respond quickly to changed economic circumstances, and the changing preferences of workers and customers.”

“This is the new reality we are operating in. Workplace relations laws are only one part of the puzzle we’re coming to terms with but it makes no sense to suggest they are not an important part nor that the system doesn’t need substantial improvement.

“If the operation of the Act limits the flexibility of businesses to innovate and adapt swiftly, if they are diverting or discouraging managers from exploring new ways of working in a collaborative way, then the system is not operating in anyone’s best interests.

“We hope the government will use the consultation process to facilitate the kind of constructive dialogue on workplace relations that Australians have shown historically we are well capable of having.

“Our shared aspiration is to secure a strong economic future, and the jobs, wages and living standards that only a strong, competitive economy can bring.”