Wake up to IR's new world



Australian Financial Review

26th July 2007


Democrats Senator Andrew Murray argues that workplace relations agreements should be regulated by statute law not common law ("Solid law, solid judgement", 23 July) . 


This is because, he claims, "statute is much more precise", provides much greater protection and flexibility, and allows disputes to be resolved in "fast, low-cost, easy access tribunals instead of slow, costly courts".


Clearly, the honorable senator has spent too much time in Canberra: interpretations by tribunals of statutes regulating workplace agreements have been far from precise, far from cheap (court costs aside) and have failed to protect the most vulnerable.


This is partly because tribunals have interpreted on the outdated basis that employers would be dominant if employers and employees were free to negotiate their own terms and conditions. 


Like the senator, they have failed to recognise that times have changed since the old master-servant days: we now have a modern competitive economy with hundreds of thousands of employers competing with each other for labour.


The other failure of tribunals has been their disgraceful protection of insiders with jobs against competition from those outside the labour market. Why, for example, is it illegal to offer a wage below $27,000  a year ? 


Why are there about 1.7 million who say they would like work (or more of it) but face restrictive regulations under statutory law?


Wake up, Canberra, we are in a new world.