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AIG welcomes the detail in the new workplace relations policy

02 October, 2008

“Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has provided important new details on the Government’s workplace relations agenda. While a number of the measures will be welcomed by industry, key concerns remain – particularly concerning the bargaining architecture - which will require further resolution,” Australian Industry Group Chief Executive, Heather Ridout, has today.

“From today’s announcement it is positively noted that:

- Restrictions will remain on the content of bargaining claims, rather than being totally unfettered as sought by the unions;
- Good faith bargaining obligations will be procedural in nature and the new body, Fair Work Australia, will not have the power to force a party to make concessions;
- There will be no right to take industrial action or access compulsory arbitration for multiple-business agreements;
- The ability to vary awards outside of four yearly reviews will be very limited;
- A Minimum Wage Panel will be established within Fair Work Australia, drawing on the best elements of the past wage setting approaches of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and the Australian Fair Pay Commission; and
- The Fair Dismissal Code for small businesses will be short and easily applied.

“While these announcements give much needed clarity to the direction of the new workplace laws, key uncertainties remain.

“There are four key pillars of the bargaining process:  how you bargain; who you bargain with; what you can bargain about; and dispute resolution, in particular access to compulsory arbitration.

“While some positive progress has been made particularly in relation to what you can bargain about and the nature of the bargaining process, lack of clarity remains about which workers can be included in the bargaining process and access to compulsory arbitration.  These issues remain of concern to industry. Further:

- The Government’s proposals regarding access to compulsory arbitration of disputes remain on the face of it too broad.  This is a major concern for industry.  If this is not appropriately resolved there is a potential for arbitrated outcomes to flow-on across industries.
- There is a lack of clarity about which workers will be included for the purposes of good faith bargaining rights and obligation, for example, will blue-collar unions be able to obtain bargaining rights for professional and administrative staff if they obtain the support of the majority of the total number of employees in an enterprise?
- As well, in relation to multiple-business agreements, the removal of the existing restrictions has the potential to substantially reduce the scope for genuine enterprise bargaining in some industry sectors.
 - Finally, the Government’s desire to have in place the unfair dismissals and bargaining arrangements by the middle of 2009 appears very ambitious.  This is particularly so given that Fair Work Australia and the new award system will not be in place and that the proposed reforms will require a massive education effort for business and industry.

We intend to work through these issues with the Government in the weeks ahead with a view to achieving workable outcomes.

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