The Australian Institute of Employment Rights (AIER) welcomes aspects of the new industrial relations system outlined by Minister Gillard in yesterday’s national press club speech. However it still remains unclear whether the Rudd Government’s new system will deliver a new era of fair work practices for employers and employees.

AIER is an independent organisation made up of employers, employees, unions, academics and lawyers.  It has defined the changes that need to be made to the workplace relations system for fairness to be achieved in its new paper Industrial Fairness – the essentials, released today (see below).

These changes include:

  • Putting in place a fair dismissal regime now
  • Incorporating a duty to bargain in good faith and empowering Fair Work Australia to conciliate and arbitrate as a last resort where this has not occurred
  • Ensuring the content of the bargain is not artificially restricted
  • Allowing workers representatives to carry out their role effectively by giving them access to the workplace and to management representatives
  • Simplifying requirements around protected industrial action

Most significantly however our conception of fairness rests on a desire to change the culture in Australian workplaces, says AIER President Mordy Bromberg.

“We have to tackle the adversarial and winner take all culture that existing unfair laws have encouraged.

Tackling this cultural problem requires new foundations and a broader vision. It requires a system based on new principles. This is why AIER has emphasised the need for the system to be founded on the notion of good faith relationships and dignity for all in the workplace.

These principles need to be layered throughout the legislation not just as an adjunct to the bargaining process.  It is not clear from what the Minister has said that this will be the case.  It’s not yet clear whether the Rudd Government is prepared to tackle cultural change.”

The Minister has described a number of changes that AIER has been calling for such as the need for multi-employer bargaining in particular industries and the desperate need for the timeline for fair dismissal laws to be brought forward.

A number of the proposals outlined by the Minister cause the AIER some concern:

  • There is no clarity given to how NES standards will be maintained, updated or evolve over time and no clear easily accessible disputes mechanism other than via a court regime.
  • The re-introduction of the matters pertaining definition to restrict the content of bargaining is a recipe for creating conflict and uncertainty in bargaining.
  • The regime around industrial action does not meet International Labour Organization (ILO) requirements and Australia’s international obligations.
  • Whilst the adoption of the Fair Dismissal Code for Small Business provides a useful checklist for all employers, there is still no clear reason why employees of small business should be subject to a definition of fairness that is different to all other employees.
  • Whilst multi-employer agreements are available, workers in this area will not be able to take lawful industrial action.  This lessens further their bargaining power and fails to comply with ILO requirements.
  • The emphasis in the dismissal regime also appears to be on compensation rather than re-instatement.  This represents a fundamental change to the unfair dismissal regime.
  • Good faith requirements are limited to bargaining parameters.

“Delivering a new era of fair work practices requires so much more than simply altering the harshest elements of WorkChoices and it’s not clear that the changes the Rudd Government is proposing will deliver this new era of fairness,” added Mr Bromberg.

AIER will launch its new magazine The Debate on the 15 October, 2008 at Parliament House, Canberra.  At this event distinguished academic Ron McCallum AO will explore further the definition of fairness in workplace relationships.  For more details contact AIER Executive Director Lisa Heap on 0418 996 354.

Media contact:  Mordy Bromberg SC, President AIER, 03 92258343 / 0412259100  or Lisa Heap, AIER Executive Director, 03 9647 9102 / 0418 996 354.