Watson critique shows why we need workplace reform to boost jobs

23 Jan 2017 |

Graeme Watson’s letter resigning from the Fair Work Commission demonstrates once again that our workplace relations system needs to be repaired urgently to ensure businesses can be more confident in hiring and retaining employees, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said today.

James Pearson, CEO of the Australian Chamber, said: “Eminent lawyer Graeme Watson served the Fair Work Commission with distinction for nearly a decade. We should all take notice when he tells us there are fundamental problems with key parts of our workplace relations system.

“Mr Watson identifies key areas where the workplace relations system is failing to deliver the sensible, practical and balanced outcomes the community expects, including on unfair dismissal, workplace bargaining, enterprise agreement approval, the award safety net and strikes.

“This reflects the experience of employers.  It is becoming increasingly clear to everyone involved in workplace relations that our system needs repair. Unfair dismissal, the application of general protections, agreement making and rules for the taking of industrial action are good places to start.

“The critique offered by Mr Watson should not be ignored – it should prompt action from those who have the power to do something about the problems he raises, including the Parliament and the Fair Work Commission itself.

“Employers and employees are left worse off when our workplace relations system delivers outcomes that are out of touch with the realities of running a business. The Fair Work Act also fails to reflect the day-to-day relationships between enterprises and those working in them.

“Reviews of the Fair Work Act conducted under Coalition and Labor governments have demonstrated the need for change. Parliament has a duty to listen to those experts and repair the Fair Work Act so that it can better achieve its stated objective of providing a balanced framework for cooperative and productive workplace relations that promotes national economic prosperity and social inclusion for all Australians.

“We saw encouraging signs last year that the Parliament is willing to address problems in our workplace relations system. All parties should heed the message from Mr Watson and others involved in workplace relations – the system needs genuine repair.

“The private sector employs more than four out of every five Australians in the workforce. Our future prosperity demands that we make it easier for businesses to hire and retain employees. Clearly there is much room for improvement in our workplace relations framework.

“The business community thanks Mr Watson for his service and wishes him well. In his time at the Fair Work Commission he has dealt with matters significant to the national interest, including supporting cooperative workplace relations and the continuity of operations on massive resource projects generating tens of thousands of jobs.”

It has been reported that in his resignation letter, Mr Watson said:

“It is increasingly clear to me that the operation of the workplace relations system is actually undermining the objects of the Fair Work legislation.”

“The outcome of unfair dismissal cases, for example, has become very unpredictable. No clear and consistent guidelines can be gleaned from decided cases.”

“The adverse action provisions of the Act remain complex and confusing.”

“The enterprise bargaining process is regarded by many as giving rise to damaging adversarial behaviour, not present in the enterprise outside the bargaining process.

“Enterprise Agreement approval provisions remain unduly complex and technical.”

“Remedies against unprotected industrial action have proven ineffective for short term action taken without notice.”

“The award safety net, produced in an intensive 18 month period in 2008-09, is subject to a review process in which individual employers have difficulty participating, and has stretched the resources of organisations well beyond their means.

“The award safety net contains provisions that were introduced in fundamentally different social and economic times. They have persisted despite the absence of a contemporary rationale.”

“In my view there is no doubt that the combined effect of the operation of these provisions is to discourage employment and investment.”

James Pearson, CEO of the Australian Chamber, said: “Eminent lawyer Graeme Watson served the Fair Work Commission with distinction for nearly a decade. We should all take notice when he tells us there are fundamental problems with key parts of our workplace relations system.

“Mr Watson identifies key areas where the workplace relations system is failing to deliver the sensible, practical and balanced outcomes the community expects, including on unfair dismissal, workplace bargaining, enterprise agreement approval, the award safety net and strikes.

“This reflects the experience of employers.  It is becoming increasingly clear to everyone involved in workplace relations that our system needs repair. Unfair dismissal, the application of general protections, agreement making and rules for the taking of industrial action are good places to start.

“The critique offered by Mr Watson should not be ignored – it should prompt action from those who have the power to do something about the problems he raises, including the Parliament and the Fair Work Commission itself.

“Employers and employees are left worse off when our workplace relations system delivers outcomes that are out of touch with the realities of running a business. The Fair Work Act also fails to reflect the day-to-day relationships between enterprises and those working in them.

“Reviews of the Fair Work Act conducted under Coalition and Labor governments have demonstrated the need for change. Parliament has a duty to listen to those experts and repair the Fair Work Act so that it can better achieve its stated objective of providing a balanced framework for cooperative and productive workplace relations that promotes national economic prosperity and social inclusion for all Australians.

“We saw encouraging signs last year that the Parliament is willing to address problems in our workplace relations system. All parties should heed the message from Mr Watson and others involved in workplace relations – the system needs genuine repair.

“The private sector employs more than four out of every five Australians in the workforce. Our future prosperity demands that we make it easier for businesses to hire and retain employees. Clearly there is much room for improvement in our workplace relations framework.

“The business community thanks Mr Watson for his service and wishes him well. In his time at the Fair Work Commission he has dealt with matters significant to the national interest, including supporting cooperative workplace relations and the continuity of operations on massive resource projects generating tens of thousands of jobs.”

It has been reported that in his resignation letter, Mr Watson said:

“It is increasingly clear to me that the operation of the workplace relations system is actually undermining the objects of the Fair Work legislation.”

“The outcome of unfair dismissal cases, for example, has become very unpredictable. No clear and consistent guidelines can be gleaned from decided cases.”

“The adverse action provisions of the Act remain complex and confusing.”

“The enterprise bargaining process is regarded by many as giving rise to damaging adversarial behaviour, not present in the enterprise outside the bargaining process.

“Enterprise Agreement approval provisions remain unduly complex and technical.”

“Remedies against unprotected industrial action have proven ineffective for short term action taken without notice.”

“The award safety net, produced in an intensive 18 month period in 2008-09, is subject to a review process in which individual employers have difficulty participating, and has stretched the resources of organisations well beyond their means.

“The award safety net contains provisions that were introduced in fundamentally different social and economic times. They have persisted despite the absence of a contemporary rationale.”

“In my view there is no doubt that the combined effect of the operation of these provisions is to discourage employment and investment.”

AusChamber Media Contact

P  |  0438 730 772

E  |  [email protected]

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