The long-awaited review of the Fair Work Act was unveiled by Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten on Friday and a barrage of criticism has since erupted as employer groups say the recommended changes fall well short of what is needed.
The government-commissioned review pushes for more flexibility for carers, and recommended that employers should be legally required to meet with workers with children, or those who care for the aged or disabled, to consider requests.
But the review has come under fire from employer groups, who said the changes fell short of what was needed. “The big priorities for the Fair Work Act Review were widely identified by the Australian Industry Group and other major industry representatives. They included more tightly defining the issues which can be included in enterprise agreements, stopping unions holding employers to ransom over greenfields agreements for new projects, implementing a more effective framework for Individual Flexibility Arrangements, and fixing the poorly drafted general protections and transfer of business laws,” Innes Willox, chief executive of Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) said in a statement. “While changes were proposed in most of the key areas, the changes are inadequate to address the big problems which are occurring,” he added.
The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) also commented on the review findings, and said employers will still have to contend with the higher labour costs and the constraints on flexibility that the Fair Work Act has imposed upon them, and remained shackled by unfair dismissal laws that force them to pay ‘go away’ money to resolve unmeritorious claims. “With the rate of productivity growth under the Fair Work Act lower than the long term average, it is time for the Federal Government to acknowledge that the laws that govern work affect productivity and make the necessary changes,” VECCI chief Mark Stone said.
Yet, a leading industrial relations academic, Adelaide University's Andrew Stewart, told The Australian that if a scorecard was drawn up on the review, employers had fared far better than unions. “Publicly, no one is going to be happy,” Professor Stewart said. “But in terms of a scorecard, employer groups … privately will feel they have had quite a few wins,” he said. The review panel also determined that the Fair Work Act had not lead to a decrease in productivity, as claimed by the opposition.
Key aspects of the report's 53 recommendations were that:
Fair Work agencies should push harder to encourage productivity improvements
Intervention from Fair Work Australia should be possible where ''greenfield'' (construction) projects stall before they even begin
Unfair dismissal applications should be able to be made within 21 days, not the current 14
Strike ballots should be allowed to be conducted over the internet
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