THE final weeks of 2015 saw the release of the highly anticipated final reports of the Productivity Commission’s (PC) inquiry into Australia’s workplace relations framework, and the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

Productivity Commission recommendations fall short

The PC released its final report on 21 December 2015.

Despite being 1229 pages in length and offering an opportunity for ‘fundamental, comprehensive’ reform options, the business community’s largely unanimous response was that the recommendations fall well short of what the review promised.

AMMA was among the leading voices publicly criticising the overall effort of the PC as ‘underwhelming’.

“The review has not properly considered the foundations on which the Fair Work Act was created – one of a by-gone era where Australian workplaces were heavily unionised, not the modern workplaces of today where 89% of private sector employees choose not to be union members,” says AMMA executive director, policy and public affairs, Scott Barklamb.

Notwithstanding the limitations of the PC’s approach, a number of its recommendations are positive and should be supported.

AMMA will urge the Turnbull Government to adopt key PC recommendations, including:

  • Ensuring enterprise agreements can only contain matters pertaining to the direct employment relationship between employers and employees.
  • Introducing alternative avenues for employers to pursue when a greenfields agreement for a new project has not been reached after three months, and allowing for the establishment of a new form of project proponent agreement for head contractors.
  • Providing the Fair Work Commission greater powers to suspend industrial action that would cause significant economic harm, and introducing measures to deter threats of, or last minute withdrawal of industrial action.
  • Requiring the Fair Work Commission to take into account the cumulative impact of union entry on employers’ operations.
  • Removing the emphasis on reinstatement as the primary goal of unfair dismissal provisions, and changing the penalties regime under which employees can receive compensation and reinstatement.
  • Amendments to general protections to remove ambiguity around workplace rights and prevent employers from facing costly adverse action claims.

AMMA’s policy specialists are continuing to work carefully through the detail of the PC’s 1229-page final report and will advise members of further important implications and developments in coming weeks.

Royal Commission calls for action on union misconduct

On December 30, Commissioner Dyson Heydon delivered the final report of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption with a scathing criticism of behaviours across a wide range of industries and unions.

After reporting multiple examples of bribery, extortion and blackmail, particularly in the construction industry, the report made 79 recommendations to improve the governance and transparency of registered organisations and to improve the management of construction work-sites across the country.

The Royal Commission’s recommendations strengthen the case for two key Coalition policies repeatedly rejected by the federal opposition and crossbench senators throughout 2014-15.

In a joint statement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash and Attorney-General George Brandis expressed their intention to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation and have it passed by the end of March 2016.

“This corrupt and illegal conduct will not stop unless there is immediate and effective Parliamentary intervention, meaningful reform and strong leadership,” the ministers said.

“(The ABCC legislation) is to re-establish respect for the rule of law in the construction industry. Leadership is required among unions, employer groups and political parties to ensure these important reforms are put in place.

“In addition, the Royal Commission has recommended stronger legislative reform to improve transparency and accountability in registered organisations.

“These recommendations go further than the government’s Registered Organisations Bill that has been rejected by the opposition. The government will therefore introduce additional legislation to further strengthen the Registered Organisation Commission.”

AMMA will continue to update our members weekly on any important changes to the regulation of trade unions and other policy or political developments to arise from the Royal Commission.