I am delighted to announce that the Chairman of Qantas, Leigh Clifford, will make the annual address at this year’s meeting of the HR Nicholls Society on Thursday 5 December. Mr Clifford has agreed to talk about the need for reform of workplace relations in order to improve productivity and international competitiveness.
Adam Bisits, President of the HR Nicholls Society, said that from his experience as Chief Executive of Rio Tinto from 2000 to 2007, and since then as Qantas Chairman, Mr Clifford has first-hand experience of the difficulties facing companies in negotiating with unions on claims which often relate to issues that are largely peripheral to conditions employees can reasonably expect employers to provide. It is anomalous that, under the Fair Work legislation and its administration, conditions of employment are effectively determined by members of tribunals who have little or no experience in running a business. Those conditions should be determined primarily by direct negotiation between employers and employees and it should be recognised that, in a less regulated labour market, there would no underlying imbalance of bargaining power between employers and employees. There is little doubt that decisions by the Fair Work Commission, such as the recent awarding of massive increases in wage rates for apprentices, are leading employers to economise on employees. ABS Labour Force data show that, soon after the increase in regulation under Fair Work, the proportion employed of the population aged 15 years and over started to fall and that has continued since early in 2011. In effect Australia has well over 200,000 who were employed then but are now out of a job.
The HR Nicholls Society recognises the Abbott Government’s undertaking not to effect major amendments to the Fair Work arrangements in its term. But it should surely be possible to make amendments which ensure that the stated original objectives are followed. This would include a requirement that proposed changes in working conditions are only approved if productivity gains are assured. This should apply to the existing administration as well as to any new review body that might be established.
The annual meeting of the HR Nicholls Society will be held at Morgan’s 401 Collins St at 5.30 pm and is open to non-members as is the following dinner (starting at 6.30 for 7.00pm) at which Mr Clifford will speak. The charge for the dinner is $120, with $90 for students.