IR law keeping bosses in the dark

A SURVEY by the Australian Resources and Energy Group has found workplaces are being stymied from making COVID-19 workplace changes due to the inflexibility of the national industrial relations system.
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AMMA calls for IR system reform

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Canvassing employers from more than 100 companies from ASX-listed players to small businesses, the survey lays bare the struggles of employers as they try to keep pace with the constantly evolving COVID-19 situation while dealing with Australia's heavily regulated industrial relations system.

Stringent consultation requirements in enterprise agreements were found to be the biggest obstacle to workplace changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 54% of survey respondents attributing this as the reason for not making the necessary changes.

The survey also found 70% of respondents had changed or intended to change operational rosters, while 51% reported barriers or impediments to doing so.

It found 67% of respondents had also temporarily relocated employees due to national and regional travel restrictions and almost half of all surveyed (49%) said the COVID-19 response measures had affected more than 80% of their workforce.

Australian Mines and Metals Association CEO Steve Knott used the survey results as a means of progressing his call for industrial awards ane enterprise agreements to be suspended for six months.

"It is clear these unprecedented times require business to have more agility and urgency in their decision-making to survive," he said.

"The government's measures to date, including the JobKeeper scheme and fast-tracking minimum consultation periods, are a step in the right direction, but are occurring too slowly and not offering broad enough relief to the majority of employers."

Knott claims most resources and energy employers are being stifled by Australia's overly rigid IR system but important measures needing fast action still need the support of third parties and most of the workforce.

"This brings into play things like consultation provisions, dispute resolution procedures and lengthy analysis of whether employees are better off overall all against complex award requirements," he said.

"The reality is Australia's outdated industrial relations system of complex awards, restrictive enterprise agreements, lengthy consultation requirements and so-called Fair Work Commission assistance won't save a single job but will unnecessarily cost many."

Knott said now was the time to put faith in employers to do whatever is in their power, within reason, to get them and their employees through the COVID-19 waters without having to shed jobs, and this required bolder action on industrial relations policy.