IR back on the agenda

With the Federal election getting closer, industrial relations are major issue for manufacturers, again.

With the Federal election getting closer, industrial relations are a major issue for manufacturers, again.

WHILE industry will be watching the unfolding Federal election very closely on many fronts, industrial relations is one area that is right at centre stage.

Business overall remains strongly supportive of Government’s WorkChoices reforms. However, while Labor’s recently announced “fine tuning” of its Forward with Fairness policy does go some way to allaying our concerns, there remain some uncertainties.

By pledging to retain key elements of the current workplace relations framework, the Federal Opposition has addressed some major risks inherent in their original plan.

For example, while we’d like to see AWAs retained as is, the transitional arrangements appear workable and Labor’s decision to retain existing union Right of Entry rules, secret ballots and other areas central to the operation of the system are sensible and positive.

We remain concerned, however, at issues such as Labor’s big changes to unfair dismissal laws which risk a return to the bad old days of paying go away money, and Labor’s ‘compulsory’ collective bargaining model.

Whichever way the election goes, business will still be coming to grips with dealing with either bedding down the existing system or planning for the new and both scenarios have major operational and legal/regulatory implications.

At the same time companies are trying to focus on the job of running an efficient, profitable business and looking for ways to fine tune their operations to lift performance and become internationally competitive.

Ai Group is very conscious of these issues for members and business generally and in response we have developed a number of new services.

On the industrial relations front we have just formed Ai Group Legal, a stand-alone specialist legal service that offers complete industrial and workplace legal services.

Under the new workplace relations laws more emphasis is being placed on common law, rather than using industrial tribunals to deal with problems.

The Ai Group existing structure limits us to actions in tribunals and puts limitations on us representing members in the courts.

The new practice is not restricted by that barrier and Ai Group’s many experienced lawyers can now be assigned to Ai Group Legal so as to deal with matters relating to workplace claims in all courts.

Our new practice is headed by Ron Baragry and David Miller who have many years of experience as industrial law specialist solicitors in private practice.

The new legal practice will not affect Ai Group’s existing services but it clearly gives an opportunity to access workplace related legal services that will be handled by specialist lawyers with proven industrial expertise, without paying excessive rates.

The other new area involves the creation of Australian Industry Productivity Centres across the country. This is a federally funded program which follows closely a proposal we put to Canberra some time ago.

Ai Group successfully tendered for a contract to provide 14 advisors to assist qualifying SMEs to review their current operations, identify areas for improvement and importantly help them access solution providers and financial support.

The AIPC scheme provides for individual grants of up to $20,000.

With Ai Group Legal and the Productivity Centre advisers we’re looking to help both members and business generally in a time of policy flux and as companies face increasing competitive pressures in global and domestic markets.

*Heather Ridout is the CEO of the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group).