Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews
is expected to face significant criticism from his own side over the new
industrial relations system when Parliament resumes in a little over a week –
and not because the policies are too tough on workers.

The more Government MPs learn about the
details and operations of the massive wodge of legislation, the more they
become concerned about its bureaucratic and cumbersome nature.

MPs are amazed by the extent to which the
system is dependent on regulation, not legislation – meaning that a system they
have suffered considerable flak over could be dismantled virtually immediately
after a change of government. There is speculation that Andrews’s own bureaucrats
pulled a swiftie on their Minister over this one.

And they wonder if those same bureaucrats
actually looked at how the system might operate. Coalition MPs are getting
similar messages to this letter to Crikey:

I don’t know
whether this is at all within your purview, but I am incensed with the new
WorkChoices laws. I work for employers, but my whinge is more from the
point of view of an industrial relations practitioner than any kind of equity
issue.

Under the old
system, to get a collective agreement certified, either the employee or the
employer applied to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission for
certification. The matter was listed for hearing within a few weeks and
the hearing itself usually took around 15 minutes, as the Commissioner had
usually assessed the agreement for “no disadvantage” prior to the
hearing. Some questions may have been asked about certain aspects of the
agreement, but as a general rule, no more hassle than that.

Under the new
system, employers have to lodge the agreement with the Office of the Employment
Advocate, but prior to lodging, employers are encouraged to have the Office of
the Employment Advocate conduct a prohibited content review on the agreement
and provide a written certificate saying that there is no prohibited content in
the agreement (prohibited content is basically anything that gives the union
rights). I have found that the prohibited content review can take up to six
weeks (30 working days, I have just been told).

And yet, last
week I got an ezine from DEWR stating the following: “Did
you know you can lodge your workplace agreement online? The process for
making workplace agreements has been simplified. There is no time consuming
certification or approval process, and agreements now come into operation once
they have been lodged with the Office of the Employment Advocate.”

The same ezine
had a feature article encouraging employers to have their agreements reviewed
for prohibited content to avoid prosecution in the future.

I am
flabbergasted that they can imply that agreement making is quicker now than it
used to be – when their own processes create a whole new part of the agreement
making process that takes six weeks!

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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