BRR: Today BRR Media speaks with Martin Osborne. He heads up the employment practice at Norton Rose Australia. Martin, thanks for joining me.
MO: Good to talk to you David.
BRR: Martin, if we can start with productivity ‑ workplace laws are often blamed for the falling rate of productivity in Australia. But we’ve seen a recent report come out from the Fair Work Review which effectively poured cold water on that idea. What’s your view?
MO: My view David is that a range of things contribute to productivity. I think there are factors like skills and capabilities in the workforce, there’s changes in the population, new generations coming through with different attitudes towards work and career and also an aging population and what that impacts on the workplace. There is no doubt however that one of things that does impact is workplace relations laws, particularly to the extent that they make inroads in relation to management flexibility and management prerogative, how management can run their business. So if you’re an employer, I think you have the accept the reality of what the situation is and you have to focus on those things that you can impact on and control. Your time is probably best spent looking at education and development and skills and capabilities.
BRR: And if we can talk about the mining boom, that’s certainly opened up a skills shortage, not only in relation to the resources sector itself but also the resulting drain on skills for other parts of the Australian economy. How are employers dealing with that?
MO: Well, different employers are dealing with it in different ways because it’s having different impacts. Some people will go from Melbourne to the Pilbara for more money on a fly‑in fly‑out. Some won’t, no matter how much money. So some companies are finding enough resources in Australia. Others have to look at elsewhere. What we are finding is that a lot of organisations now are moving skills and capabilities around the world because different companies – oh sorry – different countries have additional resources because of what’s going on there at the moment, or because we have a lot more international companies. So if you’re an employer who is moving people around, you need to be alert to a lot of the risks that can arise in those situations. When you employ someone here, you’ve got a big fat Act that sets out all of the law and there is a heap of case law that goes with that. There’s no international law that covers moving people from one country to the next, particularly what the entitlements are when the assignment or the project comes to an end.
BRR: And just finally, if we can look at workplace laws, in particular industrial relations. It’s in the headlines yet again with this latest dispute involving the CFMEU and Grocon down in Victoria. What impact are the current workplace laws having on employers, are they helping or hindering?
MO: Well look, a dispute like that could have happened over any of the last 4 or 5 Acts. I don’t think workplace relations laws help in terms of productivity. The reality is the workplace relations laws are there to protect employees and to provide certain entitlements, so they’re always going to hinder to some degree. It’s just a matter of the degree. What we’re finding with the current laws though is that they provide a lot more capacity for unions to negotiate in an enterprise bargaining context to make inroads in relation to management prerogative and how management go about running their business. So if you’re an employer negotiating a new enterprise agreement, you’ve probably achieved whatever productivity gains you thought you could achieve in the first 1 or 2 you did over 10 years ago ‑ no use trying to get an agreement in place to protect yourself against industrial action ‑ and what you’re finding is you have to negotiate with the union because they’ve got 1 or maybe a number of members and if it’s a particularly militant workforce and they want to seek terms and conditions or provisions in the agreement that impact on how you can run your business, you’ll end up arguing about them as much as you argue about the pay rates and the allowances and things like that.
BRR: Well Martin thank you.
MO: Thank you David.
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