The Australian Financial Review ran an 800 word opinion editorial piece from AMMA chief executive Steve Knott on the morning of his presentation to Macquarie University’s “Challenges for Workplace Productivity” symposium. Here, Mr Knott says the time has come for Australia’s political leaders to stand up and deliver effective policy reform.
As the debate over the Fair Work Act and its impact on productivity intensified over the past few months, AMMA and its members have been actively putting in place many of the industrial relations frameworks that underpin some of largest projects in Australia’s history.
The chorus of CEO’s and board leaders calling for policy reform to address their concerns about the resource industry’s future is growing.
Clearly, it should be of concern that the leaders of Australian multi-national resources companies are all speaking out at the same time about Australia’s falling competitiveness and abysmal global cost position.
Just yesterday the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE) released its latest report that includes a caution that in the past six months the investment climate has changed substantially.
Rather than spruik the commitment of one large project that was always anticipated to come online, the government should be addressing industry’s concerns about the future sustainability of the 277 major projects that have not yet been committed.
These $383 billion worth of uncommitted projects could potentially be lost unless Australia’s productivity woes and uncompetitive cost structure is addressed. Yet the movement to silence any critics of Australia’s policy framework remains strong.
A well-rounded, considered and meaningful discussion on the practical impacts of the Fair Work Act and how the legislation either facilitates or impedes investment and employment growth in Australia is well overdue.
But in choosing to play politics rather than act in the national interest, both major parties are denying businesses the necessary IR reforms to boost productivity and sustain Australia’s economic prosperity.
Clearly the government is too beholden to its union constituency to make meaningful changes and bring the pendulum of workplace power back to the middle ground – similar to that present before WorkChoices.
It’s also no secret that the Coalition having been burnt at previous elections on IR and is trying to neuter the inevitable re-run of the ‘return to WorkChoices’ campaign.
Resource employers are trying their best to employ people and create economic wealth through new projects. They are not interested in the politicking but rather need the leadership to both acknowledge and address their concerns.
It is equally frustrating for industry when some well-respected academics, lawyers and economists weigh into the debate by arguing ‘multifactor’ productivity comprises a range of measures and there is no solid argument that labour productivity is a workplace relations issue.
Rather than waste time debating the drivers of productivity as it is measured and the usage of one term over another; these public commentators and politicians should revisit the basic necessity for strong, clear IR reform proposals for this country.
When bargaining under the Fair Work Act and facing wages in excess of $300,000 for a kitchen hand, resource employers don’t care much to argue the semantics of productivity theory.
Our nation’s IR framework is facilitating excessive labour cost blow outs and it shouldn’t be too much to ask that our country’s labour productivity is at least on par with the rest of the world. Given our current cost framework, it needs to be better.
Further, the industry is beyond entertaining the argument that calls for IR reform must be code for stripping wages and conditions – employers across the country just want the framework that allows them to get on with the job.
The first tranche of Fair Work reforms, currently before the Senate, have not addressed any of the significant issues within the Fair Work framework that have led to serious challenges within Australian workplaces.
Instead, these changes focus on creating two additional VP roles, which if proceeded with, would most likely further undermine the integrity and impartiality of the tribunal’s authority.
Australia is at a defining point in our economic history and it’s time our current leaders stand up to the challenge and get the Fair Work reform process back on track to deliver effective productivity-improving reforms.
Some simple legislative fixes would reduce our escalating industrial conflict and demonstrably improve Australia’s international competitiveness.
It’s time all stakeholders engage in a considered exchange of views about necessary policy reform that would lead to more productive Australian workplaces and promote our national employment and economic interests.
This is the type of debate that should be central to a modern and mature economy, and it’s never too late for Australia’s policy makers to show true leadership in this arena.
Steve Knott’s full presentation to the Macquarie University “Challenges for Workplace Productivity” Sympsoium can be read here.