Lawyers to clients: Miss this chance at law reform at your peril

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Leading employment lawyers are urging clients to seize their chance to shape the future of employment and workplace relations law in Australia, after a decade of radical swings from WorkChoices to the Fair Work Act.

The Productivity Commission is soon set to undertake a wide-ranging review of the Fair Work Act, which will inform the government’s policy at the next election in 2016. The review, which is yet to commence, is expected to report next year.

Lawyers from a range of leading law firms say clients should take this chance to influence the political agenda and put an end to current legislative instability.

“We would certainly be encouraging our clients where they have a view to put before the Productivity Commission to get involved,” said Corrs partner John Tuck. “We know the major employer bodies will take a role as they always do, but individual companies may have specific matters to bring to the attention of the Commission, and now is an important time to do so,” he said. 

Harmers Workplace Lawyers chairman Michael Harmer said he “couldn’t encourage clients enough” to get involved, as the review would be “vital” in determining the Federal Government’s policy at the election in 2016.

The government is in the process of negotiating the passage of the Fair Work Amendment Act 2014, which includes relatively minor changes to the current regime and is held up in the Senate. Likewise, the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2014 has also been delayed.

Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors partner Joe Murphy said the current slated changes to the Fair Work Act would not end a period of ‘instability’ that has forced clients to constantly adjust their compliance measures.

“The only way we are going to get a resolution to this constant chipping away is if the Federal Government takes a particular industrial relations policy to the next election,” he said.

Murphy said the Abbott government’s approach was currently one of caution, with the ‘shadow’ of WorkChoices causing ‘anxiety’ for the government.

Earlier this year, the scope of the Productivity Commission review was leaked to the media, though the official terms of reference have not been finalised.

They will likely include looking at the effects that the Fair Work regime has had on the wellbeing, productivity and competitiveness of Australia and its people, as well as the impact of the current workplace relations framework on employment levels, the ability of business and the labour marker to respond appropriately to changing economic conditions, and the ability of employers to flexibly manage and engage with their employees.

The review will also look at how Australia’s workplace laws can be improved to maximise outcomes for all stakeholders, ensuring appropriate protections for workers, the need for businesses to be able to grow and prosper, and the need to reduce unnecessary regulation.

The Productivity Commission review is expected by lawyers to result in more far-reaching recommendations than a review conducted in 2012 under Labor.

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