In this AMMA News Update article, we look back on the key workplace policy developments of 2019, examine IR legislation that remains before Parliament, and recap the resources and energy industry’s top reform priorities for the Morrison Government.

In early December, The Australian newspaper published its annual power list, naming AMMA and its Chief Executive Steve Knott as one of a handful of trusted policy specialists within the Morrison Government’s network of influence.

AMMA is proud of its longstanding role as a close confidant to federal and state governments on all policy matters affecting the resources and energy industry, and particularly in industrial relations and other ‘people’ areas.

For more than a century AMMA has delivered representation, influence and advocacy for employers in Australia’s resources and energy industry – a key pillar of our economy underpinning much of our nation’s employment and living standards.

2019 was a critical year for industrial relations policy.

The Federal Election was largely fought over vastly different visions for workplace regulation, with the Australian public ultimately rejecting the ALP and ACTU’s campaign for extreme change.

Before long, the re-elected Morrison Government announced a review of the nation’s industrial relations system, one which reflected many key priorities and issues that AMMA has advocated on behalf of our members for the past several years.

In 2020, AMMA’s work in workplace policy and advocacy will continue to drive positive outcomes for members and the broader industry, as we influence and shape forthcoming and long overdue industrial relations reforms.

Government’s IR reform agenda

In June 2019, the Prime Minister tasked the Attorney General and Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter with conducting a review of Australia’s industrial relations system to identify areas for reform which will create jobs, boost productivity and strengthen the economy.

The Government has since released a number of discussion papers on particular topics seeking input on ways to improve the system to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for employers and employees.

Engaging with this process was a focus area for AMMA’s advocacy in the last quarter of 2019 and will continue to be a priority in the first half of 2020.

One of the first discussion papers related to an area of longstanding AMMA advocacy – “life of project” enterprise agreements.

AMMA prepared a compelling submission to the discussion paper on project life agreements, arguing that facilitating enterprise agreements to cover the full length of major project construction would provide critical investment certainty and assist future multi-billion-dollar mega project development.

The most recent discussion paper released by the Attorney-General’s Department focuses on “cooperative workplaces” – being workplace practices, techniques and initiatives which contribute to more productive and harmonious outcomes.

With submissions due by the end of February, AMMA strongly encourages members interested in providing input to contact [email protected].

Further upcoming discussion papers are expected to cover topics such as the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code, casual employment, aspects of enterprise bargaining and the Building Code.

AMMA will continue to engage with members to put forward the best business case for workplace policy reform that will restore Australia’s reputation as an attractive place to invest, do business and employ people.

Outstanding WR Bills at the end of 2019

Prior to Parliament adjourning for the summer break in early December there were a number of workplace relations Bills before the Senate.

In particular, one of the outstanding Bills had been a longstanding focus for AMMA and will be an advocacy priority in early 2020.

The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity No. 2) Bill 2019 was reintroduced into the House of Representatives on 4 December 2019 following its shock defeat in the Senate in November.

The revised Bill incorporates an amendment by the Australian Greens to require its operation to be reviewed two years after it becomes law. The Bill also includes the amendments negotiated with Centre Alliance and One Nation, prior to the latter party surprisingly voting against the Bill in the Senate.

Along with the Government renewing its efforts to secure support for the legislation, AMMA will continue to engage with crossbench Senators to see passage of the Ensuring Integrity Bill when it is next put to a vote in the Senate.

The Ensuring Integrity Bill is necessary workplace regulation which provides greater protection to members of all registered organisations and the community from the deliberate and repeated unlawful conduct of unions and their officials.

Other outstanding WR Bills before Parliament include: the Government’s Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Worker Benefits) Bill 2019, Treasury Laws Amendment (Recovering Unpaid Superannuation) Bill 2019, Treasury Laws Amendment (Your Superannuation, Your Choice) Bill 2019, the ALP’s Fair Work Amendment (Restoring Penalty Rates) Bill 2018 [No. 2] and the Green’s Fair Work Amendment (Stop Work to Stop Warming) Bill 2019.

Reform priorities for 46th Parliament

It is no coincidence, given AMMA’s recognised position as a trusted adviser to the Morrison Government, that some of the initial areas in which the government is seeking input reflect the priorities of AMMA’s membership.

In August 2019, AMMA released its Pathway to Productivity policy booklet highlighting the eight key workforce reform priorities for the resources and energy sector.

Developed with the input of the AMMA Board Reference Group, these eight priorities address a number of elements within Australia’s industrial relations system that cause significant productivity and competitive impacts on the sector:

  1. Address the rapid decline in enterprise agreement making due to unnecessary complexities and onerous Fair Work Commission approval processes.
  2. Restore common sense to casual employment and avoid a potential multi-billion dollar cost exposure to businesses small, medium and large.
  3. Enable life-of-project greenfields agreements to provide industrial certainty to major project investors and encourage the next wave of project development.
  4. Reform the Adverse Action provisions and remove a growing area of legal complexity and cost, clogging up our courts with vexatious claims and encouraging employers to pay settlements for claims without merit.
  5. Restore balance to unfair dismissal laws including that employers should be supported where terminated employees had breached safety and/or community standards of conduct.
  6. Improve the performance of the Fair Work Commission through carefully selected appointments, structural improvements and addressing process inefficiencies.
  7. Pass the Ensuring Integrity Bill to protect members of registered organisations from corruption, unlawfulness and misappropriate use of funds and positions of power.
  8. Ensure flexibility in industrial awards, necessary as to not stifle competitiveness and productivity of Australian businesses in the modern, evolving economy.

While the Morrison Government has made a very promising start, there is only a brief window to achieve challenging reforms in any federal parliamentary term.

In 2020, AMMA will double down on its advocacy efforts to ensure the best possible opportunity for the majority of the above reform priorities to be addressed during this term of government.

For more information on the Australian Government’s IR agenda, the workplace reform priorities identified in Pathway to Productivity and / or how you can support AMMA’s ongoing advocacy efforts, contact AMMA’s policy team via [email protected].