Bloomberg News

Australia to Review Labor Laws as Business Seeks Productivity

December 20, 2011

Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Australia will review labor laws amid a spike in strike action and criticism from business groups that existing legislation is stifling productivity and giving too much power to unions.

A three-man panel, including central bank board member John Edwards, will report back to the government by the end of May on the Fair Work Act, Employment Minister Bill Shorten said in a statement today. Other members of the review are Ron McCallum and retired judge Michael Moore.

Days lost to strikes have risen to a seven-year high as workers at BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest miner, and Qantas Airways Ltd. stepped up campaigns for higher pay and job security. The current laws were introduced in 2009 as the Labor party fulfilled one of the key pledges it made before winning power at the 2007 election.

“The government believes the Fair Work Act is working well, but there is always room for improvement,” Shorten said. “The review represents an important opportunity to have an evidence based discussion about the operation of the legislation.”

The number of working days lost rose to 101,300 in the three months ended September, up from 66,200 in the June quarter according to government data. That is the highest quarterly result since 154,200 were recorded in June 2004.

The Fair Work Act overturned defeated-Prime Minister John Howard’s “workchoices” policy that favored individual contracts over group agreements. It re-introduced worker safeguards and made it more difficult to fire people.

The Australian Industry Group, which represents more than 60,000 businesses, wants changes to allow employers to use more contract workers and give more flexibility on rostered hours before paying penalty rates.

The organisation also wants limits on “speculative” claims, AI Group national industrial-relations director Stephen Smith said last month.

--Editor: Edward Johnson

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Fenner in Melbourne at rfenner@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Vipin Nair at vnair12@bloomberg.net


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