News & Events

Australia’s contribution to G20 growth requires urgent progress on IR reform

Submitted By Firm: Corrs Chambers Westgarth

Contact(s): John Tuck


Partner, John Tuck

Date Published: 10/16/2014

Article Type:

Share This:

This year’s global competitiveness rankings by the World Economic Forum challenge government and employers to consider carefully how Australia’s labour market performance is hindering our overall competitiveness as a nation. Australia must get serious about workplace reform in a post GFC economy if we are to improve our international performance and contribute to the G20 growth targets.

Last month G20 finance and labour ministers held high-level meetings ahead of the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane in November.

Reaching agreement on a common target for economic growth is a central issue for the G20 – along with the labour market, competition and other reforms needed to achieve that goal.

At the labour ministers’ meeting in September, Employment Minister Senator Eric Abetz put forward the Australian Government’s Employment Plan 2014. Its key points are:

  • Creating 1 million new jobs over the next five years.
  • Boosting labour force participation, and addressing long-term unemployment – particularly youth unemployment.
  • Improving macroeconomic policy settings, by achieving a budget surplus and redirecting government spending to quality investment that will enhance productivity and workforce participation.
  • Reforming the social protection system, and the efficiency of labour markets by allowing businesses more freedom to make management and investment decisions.

The Government is currently seeking to fulfil that last commitment through a number of amending bills that have been stuck in Parliament, some for almost a year now. A wide-ranging review of the Fair Work Act by the Productivity Commission is also due before the next federal election.

Increasingly, the view from the Australian business community is that workplace reform is a critical aspect of the favourable economic environment needed to promote growth and international competitiveness.

The evidence supporting the need for change is mounting. While the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2014-15 ranked Australia 22nd out of 144 countries for overall competitiveness, we came in 56th for labour market efficiency (down from 9th in 2009). Specifically, Australia was rated:

  • 125th for relative competitiveness of pay and productivity
  • 136th for rigidity of “hiring and firing” practices
  • 132nd for flexibility of wage determination
  • 109th for cooperation in labour-management relations
  • 50th for competitiveness of redundancy costs.

The picture emerging requires careful consideration as it is not clear-cut and the answers are not simple. The unemployment figures are volatile, coming back down to 6.1% in August from a 12-year high of 6.4% in July. Private sector wage increases remained moderate at 2.5% in the year to the June quarter 2014. And private sector productivity rose 3.3% over the same period, continuing a three-year trend.

In the mining industry, the mainstay of Australian economic prosperity for the last decade, a report by PwC Australia indicates productivity fell by 20% over the past seven years (although this may reflect the investment phase of the mining boom, with the focus now shifting to production and an expected productivity dividend).

And in key sectors such as the construction, maritime and manufacturing industries, wage outcomes are proving to be unsustainable and the lack of flexibility dampens employment opportunities.

The introduction of change and the ability for businesses to be nimble and respond to market demands is too hard. And simply telling employers to make better enterprise agreements is too simple. The framework needs to support better and more balanced enterprise bargaining outcomes. Many employers cannot endure the pain of long drawn out bargaining negotiations with significant protected industrial action. A long lockout of employees is not often the answer.

A further round of workplace reform is needed if Australia is to improve its international performance – and therefore make its contribution to the G20 growth targets.

This should begin with the Senate passing the current IR bills before it, which would see:

  • much-needed changes to the Fair Work Act to free up the use of greenfield project agreements;
  • sensible new limitations on union rights of entry to workplaces;
  • restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and re-establishing the rule of law in this sector – essential to delivering the nation’s infrastructure for the future.

The Government should also move as quickly as possible to have the Productivity Commission commence its inquiry.

This will involve close scrutiny of several other features of the Fair Work system which employer groups, including the Business Council of Australia and Australian Industry Group, are lobbying hard to have changed: penalty rates for overtime and weekend work, the lack of restrictions on agreement content, the central role of unions in bargaining and ease of access to protected industrial action.

Corrs’ experience representing a range of private and public sector employers leads us to the view that IR reform must also encompass a number of other dimensions. These include:

  • the prevalence of award and agreement restrictions on rostering and workplace change – employers frequently have to engage in lengthy consultation processes, and in some instances, unions exercise veto rights over necessary change measures; and
  • the absence of a mechanism to conclude agreement negotiations, particularly in the public sector – to avoid bargaining dragging on endlessly, realistic time-frames could be provided for intensive mediation by the Fair Work Commission, followed by easier access to a workplace determination (if required).



Find a Member

View or print a complete ELA member list »

Client Successes

Altra Industrial Motion Inc.

Altra Industrial Motion Inc. has multiple locations in the U.S., as well as Central America, Europe, and Asia. The Employment Law Alliance has proved to be a great asset in assisting us in dealing with employment issues and matters in such diverse venues as Mexico, Australia, and Spain. We have obtained excellent results using the ELA network for matters ranging from a multi-state review of employment policies to assisting with individual employment issues in a variety of foreign jurisdictions.

In one instance, we were faced with an employment dispute with a former associate in Mexico that had the potential for substantial economic exposure. The matter had been pending for over a year, and we were not confident in the employment advice we had been receiving. I obtained a referral to the ELA counsel in Mexico, who was able to obtain a favorable resolution of the dispute in only a few days. Based on our experiences with the ELA, we would not hesitate to use its many resources for future employment law needs.

American University in Bulgaria

In my career I have been a practicing attorney, counsel to the Governor of Maine, and CEO of a major public utility. I have worked with many lawyers in many settings. When the American University in Bulgaria needed help with employment litigation in federal court in Syracuse, New York, we turned to Pierce Atwood, the ELA member we knew and trusted in Maine, for a referral. We were extremely pleased with the responsiveness and high quality of service we received from Bond Schoeneck & King, the ELA's firm in upstate New York. I would not hesitate to recommend the ELA to any employer.

David T. Flanagan
Member of Board of Trustees 

Arcata Associates

I really enjoyed the Conducting an Effective Internal Investigation in the United States webinar.  We are in the midst of a rather delicate employee relations issue in California right now and the discussion helped me tremendously.  It also reinforced things that you tend to forget if you don't do these investigations frequently.  So, many, many thanks to the Employment Law Alliance for putting that webinar together.  It was extremely beneficial.

Lynn Clayton
Vice President, Human Resources

Barrett Business Services, Inc.

I recently participated in the ELA-sponsored webinar on the Employee Free Choice Act.  I was most impressed with that presentation.  It was extremely helpful and very worthwhile.  I have also been utilizing the ELA's online Global Employer Handbook.  This compliance tool is absolutely terrific. 

I am familiar with several other products that purport to provide up-to- date employment law information and I believe that this resource is superior to other similar compliance manuals.  I am delighted that the ELA provides this free to its members' clients.

Boyd Coffee Company

Employment Law Alliance (ELA) has provided Boyd Coffee Company with a highly valued connection to resources, important information and learning. With complex operations and employees working in approximately 20 states, we are continually striving to keep abreast of specific state laws, many of which vary from state to state. We have participated in the ELA web seminars and have found the content very useful. We appreciate the ease, cost effectiveness and quality of the content and presenters offered by these web seminars.  The Global Employer Handbook has provided our company with a very helpful overview of legal issues in the various states in which we operate, and the network of attorneys has helped us manage issues that have arisen in states other than where our Roastery and corporate headquarters are located in Portland, Oregon.

Capgemini Outsourcing Services GmbH

As an international operating outsourcing and consulting supplier Capgemini has used firms of the Employment Law Alliance in Central Europe. We were always highly satisfied with the quality of employment law advice and the responsiveness. I can really recommend the ELA lawyers.

Hirschfeld Kraemer

Stephen HirschfeldAs an employment lawyer based in San Francisco, I work closely with high tech clients with operations around the globe. Last year, one of my clients needed to implement a workforce reduction in a dozen countries simultaneously. And they gave me 48 hours to accomplish this. I don't know how I could have pulled this off without the resources of the ELA. I don't know of any single law firm that could have made this happen. My client received all of the help they needed in a timely fashion and on a cost effective basis.

Stephen J. Hirschfeld

Hollywood Entertainment Corporation

As the Vice President for Litigation & Associate General Counsel for my company, I need to ensure that we have a team of top-notch employment lawyers in place in every jurisdiction where we do business. And I want to be confident that those lawyers know our business so they don't have to reinvent the wheel when a new legal matter arises. With more than 3400 stores and 35,000 employees operating in all 50 U.S. states and across Canada, we rely on the ELA to partner with us to help accomplish our objectives. I have been delighted with the consistent high quality of the work performed by ELA lawyers. I encourage other in-house counsel to use their services, as well.

Ingram Micro

Ingram Micro is the world's largest technology distributor, providing sales, marketing, and logistics services for the IT industry around the globe. With over 13,000 employees working throughout the U.S. and in 35 international countries, we need employment lawyers who we can count on to ensure global legal compliance. Our experience with many multi-state and multi-national law firms is that their employment law services are not always a high priority for them, and many do not have experts in many of their offices. The ELA has assembled an excellent team of highly skilled employment lawyers, wherever and whenever I need them, and they have proven to be an invaluable resource to our company.

Konami Gaming

Our company, Konami Gaming, Inc., is growing rapidly in a very diverse and highly regulated industry. We are aggressively entering new markets outside the domestic U.S., including Canada and South America. I have had the recent opportunity to utilize the services provided by the ELA. The legal advice was both responsive and professional. Most of all, the entire process was seamless since our Nevada attorney coordinated the services and legal advice requested. I look forward to working with the ELA in the future, as it serves as a great resource to the legal community.

Jennifer Martinez
Vice President, Human Resources

Nikkiso Cryo, Inc.

Until recently, I was unaware of the ELA's existence. We have subsidiaries and affiliates throughout the United States, as well as in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. When a recent legal issue arose in Texas, our long-time Nevada counsel, who is a member of the ELA, suggested that this matter be handled by his ELA colleague in Dallas. We are very pleased with the quality and timeliness of services provided by that firm, and we are excited to now have the ELA as an important asset to help us address employment law issues worldwide.

Palm, Inc.

The ELA network has been immensely important to our company in helping us address an array of human resources challenges around the world. I strongly encourage H.R. executives who have employees located in many different jurisdictions to utilize the ELA's unparalleled expertise and geographic coverage.

Stacy Murphy
Former Senior Director of Human Resources

Rich Products

As the General Counsel for a company with 6,500 employees operating across the U.S. and in eight countries, it is critical that I have top quality lawyers on the ground where we do business. The ELA is an indispensable resource. It has taken the guesswork out of finding the best employment counsel wherever we have a problem.

Jill K. Bond
Senior Vice President/General Counsel, Shared Services and Benefits

Ricoh Americas Corporation

We have direct sales and service offices all over the U.S., but have not necessarily had the need in the past for assistance with legal work in every state where we have a business presence. From time to time, we suddenly find ourselves facing a legal issue in a state where we have no outside counsel relationship. It has been a real benefit to know that the ELA has assembled such an impressive team of experts throughout the U.S. and overseas.

A few years ago, we faced a very tough discrimination lawsuit in Mississippi. We had never had to retain a lawyer there before. I was absolutely delighted with the Mississippi ELA firm. We received an excellent result. They will no doubt handle all of our employment law matters in Mississippi in the future. I have also obtained the assistance of several other ELA firms around the U.S. and have received the same outstanding service. The ELA is a tremendous resource for our company.

Roberts-Gordon LLC

Our affiliated companies have used the Employment Law Alliance in connection with numerous acquisitions, and have always been extremely pleased with our ability to obtain the highest quality legal advice on due diligence issues from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. We have found the Employment Law Alliance firms to be not only first rate with respect to their legal advice but also responsive and timely in assisting us with federal and state law issues critical to our due diligence efforts. We consider the Employment Law Alliance to be an important part of our team.

Rockwell Collins, Inc.

We have partnered with many ELA firms on the development and execution of case management strategies with very positive results. We have been very pleased with the legal advice and counsel provided by the law firms we have utilized who are affiliated with the Employment Law Alliance. The ELA firms we have worked with are customer focused, responsive, and thorough in their approach to handling labor and employment law matters.

Elizabeth Daly
Assistant General Counsel


Sanmina-SCI has facilities strategically located in key regions throughout the world. Our customers expect that we will provide them with the highest quality and most sophisticated services in the marketplace. We have that same expectation for the lawyers with whom we do business. With operations in 17 countries, we need to be certain that we have a team of lawyers working together to address our employment law needs worldwide. The ELA has delivered exactly what it promised-- seamless and consistent high quality services delivered in each locale around the globe. It has quickly become a key asset for our human resources department.


We own, manage, and franchise hotels throughout the U.S. and in more than 90 countries. With more than 145,000 employees worldwide, ensuring that we comply with the complex web of local labor and employment laws in every one of these jurisdictions is a daunting task. The Employment Law Alliance has served as an important resource for us and we have benefited greatly from its expertise and long reach. When a legal dispute or issue has arisen in some far-flung place, Employment Law Alliance lawyers have always provided responsive, practical, and cost-effective assistance.

Wilmington Trust Corporation

Wilmington Trust has used the ELA to locate firms in California, Washington State, Georgia, and Europe. Our experience with the ELA lawyers with whom we have worked has always been one of complete satisfaction and prompt, practical advice.

Michael A. DiGregorio
General Counsel