Jennifer Westacott, opening comments to the Senate committee on education and employment

19 Feb 2021

Speaker: Jennifer Westacott AO, chief executive, Business Council of Australia

Venue: Australian Parliament House, Canberra

Topics: Workplace relations reform, enterprise bargaining, economic recovery

Thank you.

Can I please introduce Wayne Spanner, who until recently was the Australian Managing Partner of Norton Rose Fulbright and chair of our workplace relations working group.

Senators, today we want to focus on the modest reforms before you to improve the Better Off Overall Test and restore the spirit of cooperation in the enterprise bargaining system intended by the Hawke and Keating model.

We are happy to take questions on other elements of the Bill.

Today we have released a report showing the EBA system is in rapid decline.

The number of new private sector EBAs has fallen more than 60 per cent compared to 2009.

The total number of active EBAs is at its lowest level in 22 years.

Employees on EBAs get paid more – on average, $100 more a day than someone on the award.

We are really passionate about improving the BOOT because it will improve the enterprise agreement system which is central to creating jobs and higher wages.

If we want to:

  • be an advanced-manufacturing country
  • succeed in areas like defence and space
  • continue as an industrial economy while preserving the attributes that have made us a great economy,
  • properly respond to technological and digital change - then we need to make changes in our workplaces, and
  • respond to the changing work preferences of individuals and families.

Changes to the way we:

  • roster
  • train, and
  • adopt machinery and technology.

This is best achieved by collaboration between employers and employees through an enterprise agreement where both parties are better off.

It cannot be done through an awards system where an award written by a technocrat in Canberra is irrelevant to the needs of a small manufacturer in Geelong.

When I ask companies why don’t they do more innovative bargaining to deal with these big changes, they say to me ‘because of the way the BOOT is working’.

The ‘overall’ element has been lost to a highly technical application, a line-by-line audit against the award.

Agreements take too long to make; they’re too technical and they’re too complex.

The outcome agreed by the parties is not respected - in some cases a 98 per cent vote is overturned by one person.

What we have ended up with is this awards-plus model and a serious decline in EBAs.

Now, can I please hand over to Mr Spanner who will take us through how the proposed changes will improve the enterprise bargaining system.

 

[Break for comments from Wayne Spanner, former BCA Workplace Relations Working Group chair and Global Head of People and Innovation, Norton Rose Fulbright]

 

Senators, I know you’ve heard today that the system is flexible.

Let’s be clear, the system is not flexible, many changes had to be made during COVID where employers, employees and unions worked together to address rigidities in awards.

I thank the ACTU for their cooperation and we want to continue working constructively with them.

Why can’t we now embed that cooperation into creating a better enterprise bargaining system?

A system that:

  • restores collective bargaining
  • encourages employers and employees to work together
  • gives unions a strong voice, which I support, and
  • allows companies to adapt and manage change.

The greatest unfairness will be that:

  • we lose industries
  • we lose jobs, and
  • we lose our capacity to compete because we did not make these changes that are before you today.

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