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QBIC says one size fits none with industrial relations laws

QBIC executive director Jason O’Dwyer lists the issues he has with the federal government’s latest industrial relations changes

The federal government’s vision for industrial relations, in this term, has taken on a change agenda that is equivalent to the introduction of the Fair Work Act under Kevin Rudd and is arguably the biggest change since Work Choices under John Howard.

The movement sees 17 major changes being introduced, including unpaid parental leave, positive employer obligations for harassment, fixed term contracts, flexible work and enterprise agreements. The latest tranche of worrying change includes casual employment, same job, same pay and setting minimum standards to ensure the road transport industry is safe, sustainable and viable.

In many cases, the government’s agenda is leading to a slow and methodical reduction of workplaces into a one size fits all model. Prophetically, the passenger and road transport industry once again will be subject to additional scrutiny, as we go back to the future with the FWC becoming a quasi-Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT), which was a tribunal that was tried and failed in the transport industry.

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) report into the effects of the RSRT payments order on Australian small businesses made 14 recommendations. Commissioner Carnell highlighted that “the development of any major piece of regulation by a government agency that impacts on small businesses, including the establishment of tribunals or similar bodies, should involve significant consultation with all players in the industry, with proactive and targeted efforts made to reach and involve small businesses, take into account the concerns and views of small businesses, and be based on ongoing and accessible feedback mechanisms for small businesses before, during and after implementation of the regulation or establishment of the body”.

It is imperative that senators, particularly new cross benchers, understand this history and recognise that passenger transport was excluded due to the significant difference between road and passenger operations, services, contractual chain and remuneration. The question that must be evaluated is ‘is the Fair Work Commission suitable to undertake this work and ensure the recommendations raised by ASBFEO are implemented to address the past mistakes of the RSRT?’. The incorporation of passenger transport within the proposal appears to merely amalgamate dissimilar industry sectors, a situation leading to job losses, business impacts and passenger inconveniences. Similar arguments regarding same job, same pay and casuals as proposed in the legislation must also be examined.

The balancing point between safeguarding employees and allowing industries and small businesses to maintain flexibility and competitive adaptability in various market niches is delicate. Operators, OEMs and supply partners of various scales play a crucial role in the national economy by ensuring that the public has access to an efficient, sustainable and high-quality passenger transport service while being a significant national employer. A one size fits all industrial landscape fits no one.

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