Business groups are urging political leaders to show “courage” and confront the politically fraught issue of industrial relations, arguing any benefits of future wage growth could be delayed by an inflexible enterprise bargaining system.
The Coalition abandoned the bulk of its controversial industrial relations package last year
An independent economist said both Labor and the Coalition were wary of a scare campaign on the eve of an election
The Australian Council of Trade Unions opposed almost all of the government’s industrial relations reforms last year, but acknowledged changes are needed
The Coalition abandoned the bulk of its controversial industrial relations package last year after opposition in the Senate, which included some changes to how enterprise agreements are reached.
Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash has confirmed the Coalition is still committed to the changes, but the reforms have not been prioritised in parliament or championed by ministers in recent months.
Independent economist Saul Eslake said both Labor and the Coalition were wary of a scare campaign on the eve of an election, despite there being a case for change.
“One of the reasons why wages are still falling in real terms – despite the fact the unemployment rate is down to an historically low 4 per cent – is because many workers are subject to multi-year enterprise agreements that don’t expire for a year or more into the future,” Mr Eslake said.
Mr Eslake said one solution would be to allow employers and workers more power to renegotiate multi-year agreements to better reflect lower unemployment rates or wage growth.
“That would require legislation to pass through both houses of the Australian Parliament and recent history shows that is not something that is easily accomplished either.”
Enterprise bargaining agreements ‘withering on the vine’
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Andrew McKellar said whoever wins government must confront the issue to boost productivity and wages.
“We have got to have a government with courage and an opposition with courage to make something of those reforms that will ultimately lead to greater flexibility and greater living standards,” Mr McKellar said.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions opposed almost all of the government’s industrial relations reforms last year, but has acknowledged changes to enterprise bargaining are needed to ensure better pay.
“The bargaining system is broken, everyone agrees this is the case and the statistics could not be clearer with collective bargaining on a continued decline,” Ms McManus said.
“We need a system that provides a level playing field for working people and employers and breaks the cycle of constant low wage growth that we’ve seen over the last decade.”
Mr McKellar said enterprise bargaining agreements were inflexible and needed to become relevant again to benefit employers and employees.
“At the moment they are withering on the vine, and we have got to get back to a situation where they are more responsive and we are not tied down in bureaucracy,” Mr McKellar said.
Cash: Industrial relations reform still a focus
Senator Cash has indicated the Coalition is still committed to measures introduced last year, which were grouped together and presented to the Senate as one bill.
Employers would have been able to apply to offer employees two-year pay deals that did not meet the “better off over all” test in “limited circumstances”.
“We are determined to do everything possible to make running businesses, particularly small businesses, simpler and more cost effective,” Senator Cash said.
On Monday, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese acknowledged enterprise bargaining was one way to boost wages but sought to highlight other Labor policies.
“You can do that by having secure work recognised as an objective of the Fair Work Act.
“You can do that by having proper definition of casualisation so you don’t have the abuse that has occurred in some areas at the moment. You can do that by having same job, same pay”.