Sharp increase in days lost to IR disputes, does HR lack resources?

by 12 Mar 2012

New figures have revealed there was a sharp increase in the number of working days lost due to industrial disputes last year.

A new Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report has shown that industrial disputes cost the nation more than 241,000 working days in 2011, compared to 126,000 in the previous year. Not surprisingly, both the Federal Opposition and the business lobby have been quick to blame Labor's industrial laws for the rise.

Employment Minister Bill Shorten said the Government is pleased with the figures. “This is at a time when there has been increased disputation between public servants and Liberal governments at a state level, and also some of the turmoil we've seen at Qantas," he said. Yet Opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz said the figures made it clear that the current industrial relations system is flawed. “When you’re talking about an extra 115,000 days lost, that must have an impact on the Australian economy,” he said.

Bad relationships between employers and unions may have contributed to the figures along with less than satisfactory behaviour by union officials, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson commented. “There is also a responsibility, a significant responsibility, in the Fair Work laws which have broadened the right to strike in Australia,” he said.

The figures come at time when serious questions have been raised over HR’s competency in handling early-stage industrial disputes. Employment lawyer Jeremy Kennedy said HR graduates are lacking in certain skillsets. “Some HR managers are not technically savvy on legal/procedural issues required under various legislation and they wing it a bit. Sometimes they slip up and things go pear-shaped,” he said. “I also think that studies in HR don’t teach you those technical skills and grads lack that. Having said that, I know some brilliant HR managers who are all over these issues. I think perhaps the real issue is maybe a lack of resources/support for HR from other management.”

Alec Bashinsky from Deloitte said that a lot of people still view HR as the ‘I like dealing with people’ field, but that the presumption of HR just dealing with people is not the case. “[HR] needs to be business-savvy, they need to be results-oriented. They need to be able to drive performance, they need to be able to focus on the business issues, and then they also need to understand talent and leadership capability. So it’s not just about sitting down having a coffee and having a chat.”

He suggested that HR professionals need to view the next 10 years as a cycle that will offer them important skills and that they need to actively look for roles that will give them exposure in areas such as industrial relations.


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