The workplace of the future is here: Shorten

by HCA14 Feb 2012

Bill ShortenThe sheer acceleration of workplace trends that have been at play for the last two decades, such as higher participation rates, more women in the workforce, greater flexibility, and lifelong education and training, mean in many ways the ‘workplace of the future’ is already here, workplace relations minister Bill Shorten has argued.

From here, according to Shorten (pictured), the next steps are to focus on productivity, lifting employee engagement, keeping arguments for ever-more flexible work options in check, and accepting that the Fair Work Act cannot encompass every aspect of workplace relations.

In light of the review of the Fair Work Act that is currently underway, Shorten said the debate on the future world of work transcends the fine details of current workplace laws and no legislation will replace the need for leadership in individual workplaces, innovation and passion. “A lot of these issues are not about where you draw the pendulum between [Labor’s] Fair Work Act and [the Coalition’s] WorkChoices,” he said.

The minister’s comments coincide with the arguments of Telstra director Steve Vamos, who said the quality of management must be improved to lift employee engagement and productivity.

In the preliminary findings handed down by the Fair Work Act review panel, the issue of the growing importance young workers put on flexibility and mobility was highlighted. Additionally, Cisco’s latest Connected World Technology Report found that both university graduates and young professionals have the expectations that they will be able to access work applications remotely from a home computer or personal mobile device. It was found some 26% of young professionals believe that being able to work remotely is a right (not a privilege) in today’s world and 74% of university students expect to access their corporate network using their home computer in the future.

Given the heightened calls for greater flexibility, workplace commentators have questioned whether the current industrial awards, detailed enterprise agreements and workplace rights for workers and unions have left room for workplaces to adapt and keep pace with technology and international competition. Yet Shorten was scathing of the workplace ‘f-word’ and said heightened flexibility can be a drain on productivity. “I didn’t come down in the last shower. Most people who cry for flexibility are generally well off. To use the Japanese adage, it’s the same bed, flexibility, but people in it have different dreams. If you’re paid $200,000 a year, it’s a very live concept – weekend work, any time of day or night, being paid on output. But if you’re paid $35,000 or $40,000 and ‘flexibility’ means that you drop $2,000 to $3,000, that is a cataclysm. That is a catastrophe.”

However, Shorten added that flexibility is in the eye of the beholder too. “It might mean a highly skilled member of your workforce who goes on maternity leave can come back slowly to work, you keep her job open, job share, work from home, [and] use ICT.”



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