industrial relations

SMEs in the spotlight as Productivity Commission workplace relations inquiry terms of reference released

Eloise Keating /

The Productivity Commission has been given less than 12 months to conduct its far-reaching inquiry into Australia’s workplace relations system.

Treasurer Joe Hockey and Minister for Employment Eric Abetz released the terms of reference for the long-awaited inquiry on December 19 and “the needs of small business” will form one of the key areas of focus.

The other areas of focus include the impact of the Fair Work Act on job creation; fair and equitable conditions for employees; the maintenance of a relevant safety net of conditions for employees; and productivity, competitiveness and business investment.

The commission will also consider red tape and the “compliance burden” for employers, industrial conflict, independent contracting, patterns of engagement in the labour market, and the ability for “employers to flexibly manage and engage with their employees”.

The commission will make recommendations as to “how the laws can be improved to maximise outcomes for Australian employers, employees and the economy”, with a final report to be delivered in November.

Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany the inquiry “could be a watershed” if ideological battles are put aside.

While Strong says the inquiry will inevitably focus on hot topics such as penalty rates, he says he hopes it does not becomes “a battle between ideologies, between left and right”.

“We want this to be really focused on practicalities,” he says. “We want the Productivity Commission to run it so we don’t have the workplace relations club take it over and it really does focus on people.”

“People want to separate everything from everything else, but in small business, it all works together.”

Individuals and businesses can register their interest in the inquiry on the Productivity Commission website and Minister Abetz has called on businesses of all sizes to make submissions. 

“The inquiry needs to hear from the smallest and largest businesses, from the individual employee to the largest trade union,” Abetz said in a statement.

“This inquiry will ensure that the laws are meeting their objectives and contributing to productive, rewarding, competitive and harmonious workplaces. I encourage all interested parties to make submission on what has worked well and what needs to be improved.”

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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