Election 2013: Coalition to walk softly on workplace relations, experts don’t expect reform…yet

Industrial relations experts say a Coalition government may introduce some reforms to the Fair Work system, but it’s unlikely they will come into play during the next three years.

Workplace relations has been low on the new government’s priority list during the campaign, mostly due to the 2007 backlash against WorkChoices, these experts say.

While some reforms will be introduced, such as giving small businesses access to advice through Fair Work and changes to union right of entry laws, for now the laws will remain as they are.

“There are a couple of key things that need to be understood in context,” says Joydeep Hor, the managing principal of workplace law firm People & Culture Strategies.

“The first is that in the last few months, the Coalition did not object to very important reform initiatives by the former government with regard to bullying laws, and changes to flexible working agreements.”

“They could have been opposed, but they weren’t.”

The second thing to understand, says Hor, is that the Coalition has already promised a review of the industrial relations system through the Productivity Commission.

“I think we can and should expect pressure from the business community to get on with that review, and so I wouldn’t be surprised to see terms of reference for that review finalised within the next six months.”

As a result, any changes to the industrial relations system won’t be made until at least the end of the government’s first time.

Nick Duggal, partner at TressCox Lawyers, told SmartCompany this morning we can expect the Coalition to take a “softly, softly,” approach.

“They’re clearly still haunted by WorkChoices, and are anxious not to make wholesale changes to existing workplace relations laws.

“There isn’t too much for employers to get excited about. There may be some further reductions to union rights of entry, and they’re proposing to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission.”

A recent report filed from within the Liberal Party proposed the controversial ABCC could be up and running within 100 days, although experts have noted the ABCC’s responsibilities have been given to a new entity within Fair Work.

Overall, however, Duggal says any changes will come slowly.

“Clearly, they don’t want to rock the boat.”


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