A flexible industrial relations framework should encourage business, not inhibit it.
The evolution of modern business and the changing relationships between consumers and producers presents a challenge for Australia's current industrial relations system.
That’s the key message from a panel discussion on the future of Australia’s industrial relations framework.
Federal Employment Minister, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash was joined by fellow panellists Wilhelm Harnisch, CEO of Master Builders Australia and Russell Zimmerman, Executive Director, Australian Retailers Association at a recent Lander & Rogers client briefing.
Cash says the challenge for policymakers is keeping up with the shifting nature of employment relationships and ensure Australia’s industrial relations systems allows the country to remain a globally competitive economy.
However, she says its essential that Australia’s industrial relations systems and regulation can respond appropriately.
"Producers and consumers are discovering new ways to find each other and most of it is online,” Cash said.
“It is outside of that traditional employment relationship,”
“As policy makers, we couldn't just regulate tomorrow as I don't think we understand yet what these new relationships are," she said.
"While the government is committed to maintaining a strong safety net, we need to acknowledge the inflexibility within current industrial relations system, the disincentives to employment and do what we can to change them, while at the same time having a conversation as Australians as to where the next industrial relations system is going to take us," she said.
According to the panellists, the question of new business models and how they are fundamentally changing the way consumers and producers do business going forward presents a challenge for Australia's current industrial relations system.
Lander & Rogers Workplace Relations & Safety Partner and moderator for the event, Neil Napper, said a modern industrial relations system was key to Australia being regarded as an innovative and agile economy in the 21st century.
"We've currently got a system and regulation that is built on the traditional employment relationship, so there's a really big question around how we deal with the kinds of new issues that these types of alternative business models are throwing up, for example around defining the working relationship,” Napper says.
“Are the people that work for these types of organisations classed as independent contractors? Partners? Agents?”
Harnisch said that from an economist's point of view, Australia is part of global economy and it is important that we maintain jobs and investment in Australia.
"Australia has to remain competitive,” he says.
“Our industrial relations system must therefore be an enabler and not an inhibitor," he said. "Ultimately, for the building and construction industry it's about productivity and it's about restoring flexibility so that we can add to the wealth of Australia."
Speaking about how Australia's industrial relations system can help combat disincentives to employment, Zimmerman said that penalty rates for retailers needed to be addressed.
"The retail industry is the largest private employer in Australia,” he says.
“We need to ensure that we employ people; there are a whole lot of people out there who actually want to work and there are retailers out there who want to employ those people… and yet the system doesn't allow us to employ them purely and simply because of the cost of labour."