With only three days to go until the federal election, Joydeep Hor looks at what an elected Abbott government might mean for HR
Between Work Choices and the Fair Work Act,
legislative change has had a remarkable impact on
the day-to-day operational discharge of the HR
function in Australian workplaces.
I know this by the relief I detect in my clients’
collective voices at the prospect of a period of
stability, with Mr Abbott committing early on in the
election campaign that a first-term Coalition
Government would not change the IR laws.
With the greatest respect to both Party leaders, the
current IR laws are not and should not be a dead
issue. Furthermore, I do not think that “to Work Choice
or not to Work Choice” is the question that should
frame the debate.
As a legal and strategic adviser to business, and
one who works closely with the senior human resources
personnel in some of the country’s biggest
organisations, it was clear to me that the Work Choices
legislation necessitated in around 2006 and 2007 a
significant amount of work to ensure compliance.
Specifically, organisations needed to review their
contracts of employment and related documentation
(such as policies and procedures and HR manuals) to
ensure that those documents were compliant with,
among other things, the newly introduced Australian
Fair Pay and Conditions Standard (AFPCS).
Furthermore, organisations needed to grapple with the
effective abolition of the state systems of industrial
relations as part of the Work Choices regime.
Subsequent to that, and largely due to a highly
emotive campaign that was targeted at Australian
Workplace Agreements (AWAs) (which were of
course introduced into Australian legislation nearly
a decade before Work Choices) and the restricted
access to unfair dismissal remedies for Australian
employees under Work Choices, the ALP was
successful at the last election. The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), while abolishing
AWA’s, broadening access to unfair dismissal, introducing good faith
bargaining obligations and modernising the Australian award system kept much
of the structural framework of the national system of Work Choices. Importantly
for HR managers, the AFPCS was expanded to 10 National Employment
Standards (NES). Yet again, employment documentation such as contracts,
policies and procedures all needed to be reviewed.
It is entirely unsurprising that those charged with the responsibility of
ensuring employment law compliance within organisations crave a period of
stability. It is fair to assume that regardless of the outcome of the upcoming
election, at least as far as contract administration is concerned, HR professionals
can breathe a sigh of relief. An elected Abbott government is highly unlikely to
make adjustments to the new safety net of modern awards and the NES.
Furthermore, given the stigma that is attached even to the mere utterance of the
phrase Work Choices and even more so AWAs, it can almost be guaranteed
that there will be no reintroduction of AWAs (by whatever name).
But the current system is far from perfect. I cannot recall a period in
Australia’s history of enterprise bargaining where there has been so much
rejection of collective agreements that were overwhelmingly approved by both
employers and unions. Nor has good faith bargaining really done much to
bring about more efficient agreement-making or heralded landmark agreements
that take workplace productivity to new heights.
A solid IR framework must equally balance the rights of employees with the
needs of employers and their stakeholders. It must strive to create efficiency in
the labour market and also simplify the tenets of the employment relationship.
An obsession with doing things right often detracts from the right thing being
done and there must be a return to substance over form.
Let’s hope that fear doesn’t hold anyone back from doing the right thing with
our IR laws.
Joydeep Hor is the managing principal People & Culture Strategies and a member of HR Leader’s editorial board.