Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described Australia’s industrial relations system as not fit-for-purpose, retreating to tribalism, conflict and ideological posturing.
In an address to the National Press Club on 26 May 2020, the PM said the IR system had settled into a “complacency” with unions seeking “marginal benefits” and employers reducing risks, “often by simply not employing anyone.” The system has lost sight of its purpose, the PM said, which is to “get the workplace settings right” so that everyone can benefit:
No side of that debate has been immune from those maladies. This will need to change or more Australians will unnecessarily lose their jobs and more Australians will be kept out of jobs.
The first step is to get everyone back in the room. To bring people together. That’s our job. And in particular, that’s my job. No one side has all the answers, employees or employers. Unions or employer organisations. It is not beyond Australians to put aside differences to find cooperative solutions to specific problems, especially at a time like this.
The extent of the damage wrought by Covid-19 on the Australian economy, and the enormity of the challenge we now face to get Australians back into jobs, means the policy priorities for recovery will be different to those in place before this crisis.
We now have a shared opportunity to fix systemic problems and to realise gains as a matter of urgency to get more people back into work.
The PM announced that the IR Minister, Christian Porter, will lead a new process involving employers, industry groups, employee representatives and government to “chart a practical reform agenda, a job making agenda, for Australia’s industrial relations system.” Five working groups will be established to discuss and negotiate on the following areas:
- “Award simplification, what most small and medium sized businesses deal with with their employees every single day.
- Enterprise agreement making. We’ve got to get back to the basics.
- Casuals and fixed term employees, made even more prescient by recent changes through the Fair Work Commission.
- Compliance and enforcement. People should be paid properly and unions need to obviously do the right thing, as must employers.
- Greenfields agreements for new enterprises, where the new investment will go and the certainty is needed more so than ever.”
The PM said the purpose of the initiative was to explore and find a pathway to “sensible, long-lasting reform with just one goal – make jobs.”
The PM also announced the government would not pursue a further vote in the Senate on its Ensuring Integrity Bill, to “maximise the opportunity for a genuine course of negotiation.”
Read the transcript of the Prime Minister’s address here.