In 2017, the industrial relations implications of a Labor government was the most frequently asked question from senior IR people in client businesses.
In Australia, politicians feel empowered to play politics with our workplace laws. Before you assume it’s a left-wing thing, remember that the Coalition’s Work Choices policy started all this by swinging the pendulum to the right.
Believe it or not, a lot of unions think the Fair Work Act is a dead duck and has failed to deliver for them.
What can we expect to see from a labor government?
Condensing all we have heard from our friends in the union movement, you can expect that:
Back to the future?
- Bargaining will get harder. It could involve bargaining representatives agreeing to the deal before going to vote, which could see a pivotal shift in workplaces with limited union membership but influential union involvement.
- Bargaining will likely mean guaranteeing nothing less than what exists in the underlying award.
- Terminating agreements will be more limited.
- Wage-bargaining deals will be able to be run across an industry.
- Old (pre-Fair Work) collective agreements will have a drop dead date.
- Industry-wide work value cases will be much easier to run.
- The Fair Work Commission will return to settle all industrial issues, even if you have an enterprise agreement or your employees are covered by a modern award.
- Unfair dismissal and general protection cases will be streamlined and made easier for employees to run.
- The right of third-party lawyers to represent business and employees will be even more limited than it is now.
- Right of entry will be freed up, allowing union officials easier access to workplaces.
- Industrial manslaughter laws such as those recently introduced in Queensland will be rolled out across Australia.
While this all sounds a lot like “Back to the Future”, employers must:
- Focus on a direct engagement strategy with employees.
- Invest heavily in front line (rather than executive) development.
- Ensure an aligned and consistently applied performance management approach is in place.
- Ensure that employees have access to an effective and objective internal issues resolution process.
- Develop a sophisticated understanding of any unions in your business (as you would a commercial competitor or partner) and
- When bargaining, give money before flexibility and flexibility before control.
The good news is that there are still some people on the employers’ side who lived in this world before and know how to help businesses navigate it.