The President of the Australian Institute of Employment Rights (AIER) and one of Australia’s leading industrial lawyers, Michael Harmer, will today call on all sides of politics to stop playing “political football” with the Australian workplace relations system.

Workplace relations is likely to again feature as a major issue in the pending federal election.

With the federal coalition last week hitting the lead in the Newspoll for the first time since the last election, Australian employers and employees face the potential of a further significant shift in the federal workplace relations system should there be a change of government.

According to Harmer, “Australian employers, employees and their representatives have spent massive sums in the last decade constantly adapting to changes in the workplace relations system.”

“We need to stabilise our system, and focus more on improving the quality of the players within it, and the workplace culture which they generate, if Australia is to achieve genuinely safe, productive and harmonious workplaces.

Australia has many major advantages as a country in world competitiveness. We fail however to reach international benchmark standards in a number of aspects of business leadership and related workplace culture.

Australia needs to invest more in achieving cultural change – especially in areas such as the quality of our enterprise bargaining processes and outcomes; increased workplace flexibility; and reduction in the levels of sex discrimination, harassment and bullying – rather than in chasing a system kicked from one end of the political spectrum to the next.”

AIER presented a submission to the federal government last year suggesting that evidence demonstrated the greatest investment the government could make in preventative health in Australia was via improved workplace culture.

Harmer will call on the federal government to convene a round-table on workplace relations with a view to increasing consensus on a stable, long-term mooring for the system.

AIER convened a panel of leading Australian workplace relations practitioners and academics in 2006 and formulated an Australian Charter of Employment Rights.

According to Harmer the panel “took a tripartite approach – with employers, employees and their representatives, and the public interest, playing a role in determining a charter designed to ensure a fair go all round.”

“We have since developed a standard based upon the Charter and designed to allow individual workplaces to measure their culture against the Charter.

We call on the major workplace relations players to participate in a similar process on a wider national basis, to stabilise our workplace relations system, reduce the level of compliance costs and to focus on much needed improvement in the quality of Australian workplace culture.”

Harmer’s address to the 2010 Annual Conference of the Industrial Relations Society of NSW will be preceded by addresses by a number of politicians including Robert McClelland, the Federal Attorney General; Senator Eric Abetz, the Federal Shadow Minister for Employment and IR; John Robertson, the NSW Minister for IR; and Greg Pearce, the NSW Shadow Minister for IR.

Media contact: Lisa Heap, AIER Executive Director, 03 9647 9102 / 0418 996 354.