This is our first annual review of employment and
workplace laws in Australia. We look at developments from the
perspective of employers in Australia and the challenges that they
face in the current economic climate. In considering these issues
we have taken the opportunity to gather a range of data that shapes
the environment in which employers operate and make
Work is a critical piece of our economy and of our society; the
quality of the work, the productivity of our labour and the number
of available jobs are all central to Australia's health as a
nation. It is for these reasons the workplace and the laws that
govern it are so often central to our political debate.
Today, in the aftermath of the minerals price boom the focus is
on the productivity performance of Australia. It is not a simple
debate. The recent massive investment in our resources sector is
now delivering an uplift in productivity in that sector from the
enormous capital investment. However, this can disguise the weaker
productivity performance in other parts of our economy that are our
largest employing sectors – health, aged care, construction
and education. The resources story can muddy the waters over what
Australia now needs by way of workplace laws to positively
contribute to more demanding times with lower minerals' prices,
an ageing nation, a dollar doggedly clinging to historically high
levels and critical infrastructure upgrades facing our major
The last major national political contest that had our workplace
laws at the core was almost seven years ago during the 2007 federal
election over WorkChoices. The introduction of new workplace laws
were part of the promise of 2007 leading to the Fair Work Act 2009
(Cth) (FW Act). However, this was before the global financial
crisis and the China resources boom peaking in 2011. Whether these
laws suit a new economic environment will soon be considered by the
Productivity Commission Inquiry into the workplace relations
framework due to report in April 2015.
In this context we look at the 2013-2014 financial year and the
major developments in Australian employment and workplace relations
The most significant change was the election of the Abbott
Coalition Government at the federal level in September 2013. Since
then, the Government has been implementing its reform agenda,
including proposed amendments to the FW Act; legislation to restore
the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC); and
increased regulation of trade unions.
In February 2014, the Government established the Royal
Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption (Trade Unions
Royal Commission). Hearings of the Royal Commission commenced in
April, and will continue throughout the year with a report to the
Government due by 31 December 2014.
In the period since the Coalition took office, the industrial
relations debate has shifted with employer groups stepping up their
lobbying to wind back award penalty rates (particularly in respect
to weekend work), unfair dismissal protections and union-centred
collective bargaining. In the first few months of 2014, union
agreements at Toyota, SPC Ardmona and Qantas came under increased
scrutiny in the context of discussion over the survival prospects
of these companies – and the Government's decision to
reduce industry assistance. These examples raised the issue of
whether our workplaces are flexible enough within the current
workplace laws to react to changing demands.
In this extended Corrs Workplace Relations Thinking Piece, we
examine these issues and other key workplace relations and
employment law developments over the past year, including the
commencement of the Fair Work Commission (FWC)'s new
anti-bullying jurisdiction on 1 January 2014. Significant court and
tribunal decisions are also analysed.
We then look ahead and identify the issues that are likely to be
a central focus in Australian employment relations over the next 12
months, chief among them the imminent Productivity Commission
review of the FW Act and related legislation.
Long experience representing many of Australia's leading employers has taught us that in employment litigation the identity of an employee's representative is a major factor in how employee litigation runs.
Australian employees receive certain entitlements (such as annual leave and superannuation) where contractors do not.
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