New workplace relations minister Bill Shorten has announced that an economist, a former federal court judge and an IR expert have been enlisted to conduct a review of the Fair Work Act – the first since the Act was fully implemented and a requirement under the system.
Shorten (pictured) said the review will be an evidence-based assessment of the operation of the labour laws, while employers and industry leaders have said the panel must look at the Act's effect on productivity and competitiveness.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said employers would be looking for tangible outcomes which will further support the competitiveness of businesses in coming years ahead of volatile economic times.
“The test of the review will be the extent to which its outcomes support increased productivity and flexibility, reduce red tape and improve competitiveness,” Ridout said. “The panel members have an onerous responsibility presiding over the review at a time when Australia's competitiveness is declining and, integrally, productivity is flat-lining.”
Former Howard government workplace relations minister Peter Reith was sceptical on whether much would come from the review. “The bottom line is that, as Bill Shorten says, he's basically happy with the Fair Work Act,” he told ABC Radio.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson, meanwhile, said business ultimately expected the government to make necessary changes before it gave the thumbs-up. “This is a review that is well and truly overdue because the government has not got the balance right,” Anderson said in Canberra. “Its Fair Work laws have proven a significant disconnect between the conditions of industry and the government's own ambition.”
Yet Shorten himself said the review reaffirms the government’s commitment to economic prosperity and growth, which are only possible through fairness and security in the workplace. There is a large element of union involvement in Shorten's career history.
He added that the review will be an opportunity to have an evidence-based discussion about the operation of the legislation, the extent to which its effects have been consistent with the objectives, and where the legislation's operation could be improved.
The panel will report to the government by 31 May 2012.
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