AN INQUIRY into the operation of Labor’s industrial relations legislation has recommended the name of Fair Work Australia be changed.
This reflects reputational damage done to the organisation by its handling of the Craig Thomson-Health Services Union affair, as well as the appropriateness of a more neutral name.
The case for the name change was put strongly by the president of FWA, Iain Ross.
The Fair Work Act has not harmed Australia’s productivity, according to the inquiry report, which will open a new round of the politically charged industrial relations debate.
Released by Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten today, the report argues the act has delivered fairness for employees and flexibility for employers without reducing competitiveness or excessively raising costs.
But among its 50 recommendations the report is expected to propose Fair Work Australia be given the power to arbitrate when bargaining on greenfields resource and construction projects breaks down. Employers, being forced to negotiate with unions, have complained they are being held hostage by them. Despite this, the report generally will be criticised by sections of business for not going far enough.
The report is expected to say that FWA’s tribunal and administrative functions should be more clearly separated. There will also be proposals on how to enhance the organisation’s role in encouraging more productive workplaces.
A survey commissioned by the US Society of Human Resources Management and the Australian Human Resources Institute and reported this week found Australia 50th of 51 countries in productivity growth. was undertaken by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The review has been done by former Federal Court judge Michael Moore, John Edwards, a member of the Reserve Bank Board, and Ron McCallum, a workplace relations academic.
The government made it clear the inquiry would not be a root and branch overhaul.
The panel has not recommended reintroducing statutory individual contracts (Australian Workplace Agreements), open-slather greenfields agreements where unions can be excluded, or limits to unfair dismissals.
It found Labor’s industrial relations law, which replaced WorkChoices, is operating as intended.
Mr Shorten will have a round of consultations before the government announces what changes it will make, but it will be made clear to business and unions that this will not be an opportunity to revisit propositions that the panel rejected.
The government will use the panel’s findings to counter opposition and business arguments that substantial reform is needed in workplace relations. It will also step up pressure on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to release his policy on IR.
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