Western Australia, Tasmania consider state-based IR reform, but industry group raises red flag

The Australian Industry Group has raised a red flag after the West Australian and Tasmanian governments said they are considering making changes to industrial relations laws, arguing instead that universal laws are a much more practical solution.

The comments come as West Australian commerce minister Bill Marmion says the Government will consider the advice presented in an official report, which recommends nearly 200 changes to current IR laws.

But while the WA government is set to appease employers with its own reforms, the Tasmanian government is seeking to improve union rights at the same time – leading the AIG to label both moves as counter-productive.

AIG industrial relations director Stephen Smith says the concept of a national set of industrial workplace laws is sound and needs to be the ultimate goal of all states and territories.

“We continue to strongly support that model. There are sections of laws that we feel need to be amended, and we are monitoring those closely, but the idea of one unitary system is important.”

“We would be very concerned about any states wanting to go off in their own different directions regarding these laws,” he says.

The Western Australia report, which cost about $850,000, contains 193 recommendations and was compiled by Steven Amedola, appears to provide more recommendations for extending employers’ rights. Marmion said yesterday that the current system is “out-dated and does not adequately reflect the needs of small business and the public sector”.

Some of the recommendations include providing maximum working hours for children under 15, the abolition of the role of president in the WA Industrial Relations Commission and disallowing industrial action which is not related to any bargaining.

The report also recommends that businesses with fewer than 20 employees should be exempted from unfair dismissal laws, and that employees could not make an application unless they had worked at the business for six months.

Other recommendations include unions seeking right of entry to a workplace pass a “fit and proper person” test, and that the state industrial relations commission could issue some restraining orders if these requirements are not met.

But the report has been met with condemnation by both business groups and unions, with both complaining the recommendations don’t go far enough and are too restrictive on workers, respectively.

“The state government is only prepared to tinker around the edges of a system that is fundamentally flawed,” industrial relations policy manager Marcia Kuhne said in a statement yesterday.

“It has taken the government 14 months to release this report, and now that it has, the government’s response falls well short of what the WA business community needs.”

Unions WA secretary Simone McGurk also said the report was concerning, but argued it recommends too many rights be taken away from workers. “There are certainly some elements to the report that hark back to areas of Workchoices that are a big concern,” she said yesterday.

“One is, for instance, the removal of some protections for unfair dismissal and also some quite severe restrictions for right of entry for workers representatives, for unions to go to workplaces.”

Meanwhile, Unions Tasmania has called on the government to reform the state’s own industrial relations laws claiming that employees are confused with the new system. Secretary Kevin Hawkins told the ABC yesterday that a motion has been passed urging the government to move back to a state system.

“Unions vented their frustration at the lack of change between Work Choices and the Fair Work Act,” he said yesterday.

“A resolution was passed that we reinvigorate or reconnect with the state industrial relations system which is still in place. It’s a lot easier to use, it’s a lot more worker friendly and employer friendly.”

But Smith says that approach would be condemned by the AIG.

“We still believe the approach is to have one set of laws. The Fair Work act is quite new, we’re still monitoring it and if problems come up there should be amendments to fix these problems,” he says.

“But with regards to states moving away and forming their own systems, particularly in Tasmania, we would certainly be concerned about that.”

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