Review of the Fair Work Act

Statement from BCA Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott on the Announcement of a Review of the Fair Work Act

Australia’s economy is undergoing major structural change and our regulatory system, including workplace laws, must allow companies to meet the challenges.

This includes providing businesses with the flexibility needed to adapt and respond to the challenges of a very volatile economic environment.

The review of the Fair Work Act is a welcome opportunity to get workplace relations right in Australia.

But the review must be broad enough to examine whether the system is working to help Australia deal with these short- and longer-term issues.

It must examine the impact of the system on competitiveness and flexibility in the workplace, not just look at narrow technical issues.

The review must also not be limited by any arbitrary threshold of evidence that companies are having difficulties before it is accepted there are problems with the Act that need to be looked at.

Compared with past regimes there is now a broader set of matters on which industrial action can be taken and a broader scope of matters that can be put into a claim.

This has unleashed an adversarial culture that has resulted in a rising number of disputes and unreasonable claims by some unions.

The risk is that companies will not have the flexibility they need to stay competitive and innovate so as to lift productivity.

The review is an opportunity to bring government, business and unions together to talk about how our workplaces can be more competitive and resilient to economic challenges.

It must consider the following questions:

  • Are we enabling the companies to stay competitive and in a timely fashion?
  • Are we enabling the innovation needed to lift productivity, which requires flexibility?
  • Are we promoting collaborative, harmonious working environments?
  • Have we addressed administrative complexity and ambiguity?

We believe the problems with the current system are either associated directly with the Act or with ambiguities in the Act. Other problems are more associated with long-standing issues of workplace culture that have returned under the Fair Work regime.

Business accepts that management practices can improve in some instances to create high-performing work places, but this is more likely to occur if workplaces are characterised by collaborative rather than adversarial enterprise relationships.

The Business Council of Australia has formed a specialist reference group of member companies to prepare a submission to the review and will be taking the process very seriously.

We aim to work constructively with all parties in the interests of maintaining Australia economic strengths.