Australian Government Productivity Commission

Issues Paper No. 1 gives an overview of how the Commission will seek submissions from employer and employee representatives as well as Government bodies, academia and special interest groups before making recommendations to improve and maximise outcomes for all parties. The inquiry is not intended to maximise benefits to any particular group but rather, through its recommendations, to maximise the benefits to the community as a whole.

The Commission’s terms of reference for the inquiry are broad and cover matters of particular interest to small business operators that comprise a majority of the transport industry. Matters being considered include competitiveness, responding to changed economic conditions, ability to flexibly manage employees, barriers to bargaining and the red tape and compliance burden for employers.

It is argued that the current system lacks flexibility and encourages an adversarial relationship between employers and employees that works against productivity and innovation, and produces higher costs of hiring, firing and redundancy that are inadequately linked to productivity. On another view of the system there has been relative industrial peace, wage growth consistent with consumer price inflation and a decline in unemployment in the past two decades.

Issues Paper No. 2 addresses employee entitlements through safety nets, the Federal minimum wage, the national Employment Standards, the Award system and penalty rates. These matters relate to employees with other labour sources such as business managers, the self-employed and independent contractors in a largely unregulated market.

The minimum wage is the primary safety net for employees, with a second safety net being the National Employment Standards that specifies 10 minimum requirements including for leave, hours of work, termination of employment and redundancy. The Award system is recognised as the third safety net for employees with modern awards providing terms and conditions for employees classified in distinct industry groupings.

This Issues Paper also considers penalty rates and the challenges arising from the effects on the economics of penalty rates in different industries.

Issues Paper No. 3 considers bargaining and industrial disputation matters and is intended to test alternative bargaining arrangements that address concerns over the extent to which the parties can genuinely craft arrangements suited to them.

Whilst the Fair Work Act is specific on some matters it is largely silent on a set of issues considered as part of the employer-employee or union-employer relationship, with the Commission to seek the views of parties as to what should be permitted. The Government is also proposing to introduce rules that require discussion on productivity improvements as part of the bargaining process.

The major elements of bargaining will continue to be bargaining in good faith with an overall outcome that all employees must be better off overall than the comparison award. Individual Flexibility Agreements within the bargaining framework will be examined to determine whether there should be restrictions on the matters that parties may trade off to form an individual agreement.

Issues paper No. 4 looks at protections for employees including unfair dismissal, anti-bullying laws and the general protections ’adverse action’. This issues paper is mainly concerned with the effects of unfair dismissal on employers and employees and whether the current arrangements are justified or function well.

Issues paper No. 5 briefly explores compliance costs, competition law, alternative forms of employment and some general elements of workplace relations including independent contractors and labour hire, and long service leave.

The Productivity Commission Issues Papers provide an insight into the present Workplace Relations Framework and matters that will need assessment and consideration. NatRoad highly recommends employers who wish to be informed on the process and the subject matter read the full versions of the Issues Papers which can be found on the NatRoad website.

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