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IR Reform will not produce productivity gains - conference

24 Jul 2013

In the run up to this year's Federal Election, the major parties have been warned that further industrial relations reform will not produce productivity gains but could destabilise the economy.

Industry representatives, unionists and researchers attending the recent Labour Law Conference in Sydney agreed that further changes to the industrial relations system were unwarranted.

"Speakers from very different backgrounds and representing very diverse interests were unanimous in the view that IR reform was no longer a simple solution to a very complex issue," said Conference Chairman, Professor John Buchanan.

The 21st Labour Law Conference hosted by the University of Sydney Business School's Workplace Research Centre, focused on "ways of improving productivity and labour relations policy-making within the existing system".

The keynote speaker, former Fair Work Australia President, Hon. Professor Geoffrey Giudice, said that further reform should be approached with "some caution".

Professor Giudice said that the liberalisation of labour market regulation in the early to mid-90s was a good example of the government of the day responding to changing domestic and international conditions.

"However, it might also be said that after four major reform Acts in the last 20 years, further change should be approached with some caution," he warned. "Stability is important from an economic and social viewpoint."

Contrary to a popularly held view, a number of speakers claimed that the current IR system has produced significant productivity gains in recent years.

"Productivity levels are now higher than they have been for years and those looking for the source of further gains will need to look somewhere other than IR reform," said Professor Buchanan.

While speakers agreed that wholesale IR reform was undesirable, a number of industry representatives did call for changes to the current system.

Mark McInnes, Chief Executive of the retailer, The Just Group, said that the Federal Government's management of the economy had cost more than 80,000 jobs. The Australian Industry Group's director of workplace relations, Stephen Smith, expressed concern over current levels of union power.

The Labor Government and the Opposition Coalition have indicated that they will retain the current IR system should they win the forthcoming election.