A REVIEW of the Fair Work Act has found the Labor Government's industrial relations laws have not contributed to poor productivity, Workplace Minister Bill Shorten said on Thursday.
But the four-month-long review, completed by a professor, a member of the Reserve Bank Board and a former Federal Court Judge, was panned by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
The review has highlighted the long-held divide between Labor and Liberal philosophies on industrial relations in Australia.
While Mr Abbott told reporters on Thursday "the government reviewing government has found that the government doesn't have a problem".
But, emphasising the independence of the review panel, Mr Shorten said it had largely endorsed Labor's policy and legislation on industrial relations.
While business and industry have criticised the act for limiting productivity improvements, the panel found it "delivering fairness to employers and employees".
Among the 53 recommendations the panel made were to extend the role of Fair Work Australia and the Fair Work Ombudsman and improve access to individual flexibility arrangements.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson said while the act was not solely responsible for falls in productivity, the "rules that govern work affect the productivity of work".
"Employers bearing higher labour costs or the price of speculative union activity and legal claims have had their hopes dashed that something would be done about it," he said.
"The panel's recommendations, even those that propose minor changes, don't fix areas where the system has not worked as the government promised industry it would.
"Especially for small employers, there is nothing in it. Increased small business costs under industrial awards that the government promised would not exist, but which now exist, are left in place."
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney said the union movement would be "vigorously defending" any more attacks on workers' rights.
"In the wake of this report, unions maintain the view that any further changes to workplace laws should improve job security, rights and protections for Australian workers, not hand more power to employers.
"Any move to reduce workers' rights would be completely at odds with the report's overall conclusions."
SOME OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS:
- The Act be amended to prohibit clauses that allow employees to opt out of the enterprise agreement, and to prohibit the making of an enterprise agreement with one employee.
- The right to seek flexible work arrangements be extended to a wider range of caring and other circumstances
- If an employee requests additional unpaid parental leave or flexible work arrangements, the employer must hold a meeting with the employee to discuss the request, unless the employer has agreed to the request
- Taking unpaid special maternity leave should not reduce an employee's entitlement to unpaid parental leave
- Employers be required to continue to provide accommodation even when employees are taking protected industrial action
- Widen the powers of the FWA and Fair Work Ombudsman
- Make individual flexibility agreements easier to access and more attractive
- Amend the Act to require that protected action ballot orders can only be issued after bargaining has commenced