While workers and businesses scramble to comprehend what Howard’s
proposed IR
changes will mean for them, how are players in the exclusive (and lucrative) IR
club reacting to the proposed changes? Howard has been heralding
his proposed legislation as a “job creation package,” and some IR
insiders have told Crikey that this will apply for thousands
of lawyers as they cash in on the changes.

Andrew Stewart, Professor of Law at Flinders University, told Crikey
that “bigger firms, particular
those advising employers, will be gaining work hand over fist.”

The very big business of IR law incorporates thousands of IR
professionals, unions, legal firms that specialize in IR law,
industrial consultants, multinationals (who often have 20 or 30 people
working solely on
IR issues), large Australian corporations, plus all the employees of
state and federal industrial
commissions, all of whom are set to be affected by the changes. But
despite the Government’s claims that the IR reforms will declutter and
streamline the process, at least in the short term, lawyers are set
to be busier than ever.

“There will be a definite boost
for jobs in the
legal industry,” says Stewart. “There’s little doubt that this will create lots of jobs
lawyers. There will be drop off of work for the smaller
firms of the
ordinary common unfair dismissal claim but to compensate for that we
will see
growth in workers comp claims and discrimination claims.

“But there are also going to be a huge number of issues
thrown up by the complex transitional changes…There are all sorts of
ways that laws can be exploited by businesses…employer lawyers will be
advising businesses and taking advantage of
the opportunity for new work.

“Plus, there’s going to be a huge amount of uncertainty, partly
because of the complexity of changes and also because of constitutional challenges to
the legislation. We will see a change in the type of work that’s done. And in the short to
medium term there will be no loss of work.”

Dan Feldman, a partner with Melbourne law firm Gadens Lawyers told Crikey
that “next year will be a very busy year” for the firm. “In general, larger firms expect a growth in
litigation. Employees will look at other options like the Equal
Opportunity commission or lower end common
law claims for breaches of employment agreements.

“The large law firms are expecting litigation to arise from challenges
to the legislation, and there will be a rush for employers who may be currently award-covered but will
probably seek to utilize the individual agreements so that should create a rush of
work. But smaller employee lawyers would be panicking…”

Allen McDonald, of smaller law firm McDonald and Murholme, who mainly
represent employees, told Crikey that the changes mean “that
advocates will take on the role of helping disadvantaged employees
because it
is simply too hard and too unprofitable to do so, that’s what it boils
down to. There has been a
proliferation of law firms looking after business, that’s where the
money is.
They don’t care how they crunch the small or underprivileged worker.”

McDonald says he’s been steering employees away from the AIRC for the
last couple of years because it “can’t and won’t deliver.” Instead,
he’s been pursuing claims through the Equal Opportunity Commission, and
expects other law firms to do the same.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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