The latest edition of AIER magazine is out now. Entitled Current Controversies – this edition explores some of the key issues in the current public discourse about workplace relations. In this lead article AIER Executive Director provides an overview of the content of this issue of the magazine.

The arena of workplace relations never lacks issues and controversy. While employees and their employers have much in common and much to gain through mutual effort, some tension between them is likely to be ever-present. Employee earnings are employers costs. Workplace ‘flexibility’ is often worker insecurity.

We spend much of our adult lives at work. Workplaces can be places of social contact, learning and professional development, and achievement;or places of drudgery, boredom, harassment, and real danger of death and injury. Collectively, the outputs of workplaces – in both the private and public sectors – determine the economic well-being of our society and also contribute enormously to social and community well-being.

Onto this complex mix, governments seek to superimpose rules determining behaviour and outcomes. They are never short of advisers with a vested interest in telling them what they need to do. This year has been no exception. Productivity has continued to be a hot topic and AIER was pleased to be at the centre of this through the second annual Ron McCallum debate in Sydney. The Fair Work Act has been reviewed and the government has had plenty of advice – expert, partisan and otherwise on what needs to be changed or retained. The new system’s modern awards are also undergoing their first formal
review although ultimately changes are not expected to be great. However, into this mix has come Senator Nick Xenophon with a radical proposal to bypass Fair Work Australia and legislate to remove penalty rates from small business employees in retail and hospitality.

Bullying remains a serious concern in many workplaces – AIER and other organisations have made submissions to a parliamentary committee of inquiry, seeking to address this issue. As AIER President Michael Harmer said in verbal evidence to the Inquiry, this is a general cultural problem in Australia that needs decisive action, particularly to address the chaotic regulatory‘system’ that allows bullying to flourish in some workplaces.

Approaches to industrial relations continue to evolve in the wake of Qantas’s 2011 action to ground its planes in order to bring protected industrial action by three unions to a head. These matters have industrial parties re-examining their tactics.

A new President was appointed to Fair Work Australia this year after a long stint at the helm by the well-respected Geoffrey Giudice. I am very pleased that His Honour, now an Honorary Professor at Melbourne University, has contributed an article on the importance of an independent industrial relations tribunal in this country. His Honour worked hard to maintain the tribunal’s independence from all would-be influencers during his time at the top, earning him respect from all sides. I commend his article to you.

Controversies will always exist. Our mandate at AIER is always to try to find common ground between employers and employees, in an effort to create decent work and decent workplaces for all.

Read this issue of The Debate.