QMCA welcomes plans by the Federal Government to set up roundtable discussions to investigate reform of industrial relations in Australia.
For too long, the development of industrial relations policy has been akin to trench warfare where perceived progress by either side in the debate is measured in tiny increments rather than shared significant gains. The end result is that we have one of the most complicated and inefficient industrial relations regimes in the developed world that neither protects existing jobs, facilitates increased employment nor provides for efficient and competitive work practices.
Whilst many of the problems with the current system apply universally across all employment sectors there are some that apply particularly to the construction industry.
QMCA, therefore, calls for the following construction industry-specific action to be taken:
Enterprise Agreement Making
It is widely accepted that the Fair Work Act gives too much weight to the procedure and too little to outcomes. This results in unsatisfactory arrangements and excessive compliance costs.
QMCA supports the Prime Minister’s view that “we’ve got to get back to basics” in relation to Enterprise Agreement making. In addition to amendments aimed at simplifying the agreement making process, QMCA considers that the Fair Work Act should be amended to permit enterprise agreements that cover work on major projects to continue for the life of the project even if this is longer than the current four year limit on the nominal term.
QMCA would recommend a review of cumbersome eligibility rules for unions to be improved to minimise confusion regarding coverage in an attempt to return to industry-specific negotiations with minimal parties. We also support giving employers protection against pattern bargaining at both contractor and subcontractor levels which only results in decreased productivity and efficiency across the industry.
Too often projects are held to ransom by the threat of industrial action when enterprise agreements expire before a project is complete and negotiations commence on a new agreement.
QMCA calls for the ability to negotiate greenfield (project-specific) agreements that span the full life of major projects and reflect prevailing industry conditions and allow for the inclusion of clients and critical subcontractors.
We also call for a reduction of the notified negotiation period from 6 months to 3 months as the current period is excessive, unproductive and can lead to unnecessary project delays.
There should be no requirement to negotiate different deals with different unions once an agreement has been signed with the union that represents that majority of workers on a project and the agreement should have the ability to vary wage increases within the agreement period in line with economic conditions and associated labour market conditions.
Compliance and Enforcement
QMCA is encouraged by the Prime Minister’s plan for dialogue between industry participants in relation to compliance and enforcement.
QMCA supports the need for balance between ensuring regulators have clarity of scope, effective enforcement tools at their disposal and achieving timely outcomes for the aggrieved (such as workers affected by recent underpayment issues). Just as employers must be accountable for noncompliance with employment agreements and be subject to appropriate sanction there should be similar accountability and timely sanction for non-compliance with the law by unions.
The regulators need to be equipped to manage unlawful behavior, including bullying, threats, intimidation and denial of legal entitlements, as it is having a significant impact on the overall productivity and sustainability of the industry.
QMCA and its members are optimistic about the opportunity for a fundamental shift in Industrial Relations brought about by COVID-19 and we stand ready to be a committed and respectful participant in discussions to facilitate this.