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The Calm before the Storm of Workplace Relations Reform

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By Chao Ni, Associate, MST Lawyers

It has been relatively quiet in the realm of workplace relations reform. 

The last major reform took place in June 2013 (the Fair Work Amendment Act 2013), shortly before the Rudd/Gillard Government was toppled at the 2013 Federal Election.

In February 2014, the Abbott lead Coalition Government introduced their first proposed workplace relations reform (the Fair Work Amendment Act 2014), which has yet to receive the blessing of the Senate.

And thus it has almost been 2 years since the Fair Work laws were amended and there’s been an eerie silence in the area of workplace relations reform, much like the calm before a storm.

On 22 January 2015, the Productivity Commission revealed its issue papers on a broad review of the Australian workplace relations framework, including:

  • the National Employment Standards
  • the federal minimum wage rate
  • the award system and penalty rates
  • workers’ protection (e.g. unfair dismissal, general protections (adverse action) etc.)
  • bargaining (e.g. enterprise bargaining, independent contracting, individual flexibility agreements etc.)
  • industrial relations (e.g. right of entry, industrial disputes etc.)
  • the effectiveness of the current legal institutions (e.g. the Fair Work Commission, the Fair Work Ombudsman etc.)
  • a comparison against frameworks in other OECD countries.

A copy of the Productivity Commission’s issue papers can be accessed here.

The findings of the review, which are due in November 2015, are expected to help frame the Coalition’s second term industrial relations policy.

Interestingly, the Productivity Commission’s review findings will precede the conclusion of the Fair Work Commission’s four year modern award review, which will also involve a review of penalty rates in modern awards.

In 2015, we predict that:

  • the issue of penalty rates will dominate headlines as employer groups are expected to take the fight to unions over the elimination and/or reduction of penalty rates
  • the unions will continue to yell “WorkChoices” at any one who will listen
  • life will go on

For further information, please contact our Employment Law and Workplace Safety team by email workplace@mst.com.au or by telephone +61 8540 0200.