AMMA chief executive Steve Knott was featured alongside several high profile industrial relations identities for Workforce Daily’s final edition – “IR in 2016, all sound and fury”. See Steve’s section replicated below:
Biggest development in industrial and workplace relations in 2016?
For the biggest IR event in 2016 it’s hard to split the CFA [Country Fire Authority] dispute and the successful return of the ABCC.
In a long federal election campaign where discussions on workplace relations otherwise mysteriously disappeared, the CFA saga had it all. We saw a powerful public sector union seeking to shore up its influence in protracted EA [enterprise agreement] bargaining; unpaid firefighters putting up a fight to defend the longstanding Aussie tradition of emergency services volunteering; the Victorian Labor government, once sympathetic of the volunteers, changing its tune to instead support its union backers; and even the intervention of FWC [Fair Work Commission] President Iain Ross, which had many in the IR community scratching their heads as to why his personal involvement in a highly public event was warranted or even appropriate during a federal election campaign.
However, the event that will have the most significant impact on the future of IR in our country was the successful return of the ABCC, secured in the final days of parliament. After almost a decade of lobbying for initially the retention of the ABCC and then later its urgent restoration, AMMA was delighted to see the building industry watchdog returned in November with extended powers to regulate offshore resources projects and related supply chains and contracting sectors. Notwithstanding the at-times hysterical criticism of the two-year transitional period related to the new Building Code, this new jurisdiction coupled with tripled penalties for breaking the law and bolstered investigation powers will have a massive impact in breaking the CFMEU’s historical operating model of breaking the law first, and treating the fines and penalties later as a standard cost of doing business.
Biggest sleeper issue?
The biggest sleeper issue by far has been the government’s inability or plain refusal to engage on and progress the recommendations arising from the Productivity Commission’s 2015 review of our national workplace relations laws. While Employment Minister Michaelia Cash should be congratulated for her IR victories of late 2016, many of these issues related to union compliance and lawfulness, and do not provide the types of fundamental workplace relations reforms Australia needs in order to re-build strength in our national economy and become more competitive in a rapidly changing global marketplace.
Predictions and challenges for 2017?
With the distractions of a federal election year behind us, and the ABCC / Registered Organisations Commission monkey off the government’s back, AMMA optimistically predicts that 2017 will see continued momentum for positive, job-creating IR reforms. This will involve implementing recommendations of the Heydon Royal Commission to further ensure transparent and lawful trade union activities in Australia, but more importantly put to action key elements of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations.
We would like to see reforms start by addressing union workplace entry laws, specifically ensuring reasonable site access in reasonable meeting locations. This would stop unions using multiple entry requests as an industrial tactic and revert back to company-provided meeting rooms being the default location for union visitation as opposed to employee lunchrooms, which should be off-limits. Other issues including permitted matters in bargaining, strike action and unfair dismissal / adverse action laws – all of which are adding more and more cost, regulatory burden and unproductive practices to Australian business. Further, with more head-scratching decisions and signs of tribunal activism coming out of the FWC, we predict 2017 may see some reforms targeted at ensuring employers and employees have a more consistent and lower-cost experience with the national IR tribunal, and as a result decisions and approaches being more aligned to practical business needs and community expectations.