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Employment and workplace law: Mid-year review 2014

Submitted By Firm: Corrs Chambers Westgarth

Contact(s): John Tuck

Author(s):

Date Published: 8/13/2014

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This is our first annual review of employment and workplace laws in Australia. We look at developments from the perspective of employers in Australia and the challenges that they face in the current economic climate. In considering these issues we have taken the opportunity to gather a range of data that shapes the environment in which employers operate and make decisions.

Work is a critical piece of our economy and of our society; the quality of the work, the productivity of our labour and the number of available jobs are all central to Australia’s health as a nation. It is for these reasons the workplace and the laws that govern it are so often central to our political debate.

Today, in the aftermath of the minerals price boom the focus is on the productivity performance of Australia. It is not a simple debate. The recent massive investment in our resources sector is now delivering an uplift in productivity in that sector from the enormous capital investment. However, this can disguise the weaker productivity performance in other parts of our economy that are our largest employing sectors – health, aged care, construction and education. The resources story can muddy the waters over what Australia now needs by way of workplace laws to positively contribute to more demanding times with lower minerals’ prices, an ageing nation, a dollar doggedly clinging to historically high levels and critical infrastructure upgrades facing our major cities.

The last major national political contest that had our workplace laws at the core was almost seven years ago during the 2007 federal election over WorkChoices. The introduction of new workplace laws were part of the promise of 2007 leading to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act). However, this was before the global financial crisis and the China resources boom peaking in 2011. Whether these laws suit a new economic environment will soon be considered by the Productivity Commission Inquiry into the workplace relations framework due to report in April 2015.

In this context we look at the 2013-2014 financial year and the major developments in Australian employment and workplace relations law.

The most significant change was the election of the Abbott Coalition Government at the federal level in September 2013. Since then, the Government has been implementing its reform agenda, including proposed amendments to the FW Act; legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC); and increased regulation of trade unions.

In February 2014, the Government established the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption (Trade Unions Royal Commission). Hearings of the Royal Commission commenced in April, and will continue throughout the year with a report to the Government due by 31 December 2014.

In the period since the Coalition took office, the industrial relations debate has shifted with employer groups stepping up their lobbying to wind back award penalty rates (particularly in respect to weekend work), unfair dismissal protections and union-centred collective bargaining. In the first few months of 2014, union agreements at Toyota, SPC Ardmona and Qantas came under increased scrutiny in the context of discussion over the survival prospects of these companies – and the Government’s decision to reduce industry assistance. These examples raised the issue of whether our workplaces are flexible enough within the current workplace laws to react to changing demands.

In this extended Corrs Workplace Relations Thinking Piece, we examine these issues and other key workplace relations and employment law developments over the past year, including the commencement of the Fair Work Commission (FWC)’s new anti-bullying jurisdiction on 1 January 2014. Significant court and tribunal decisions are also analysed.

We then look ahead and identify the issues that are likely to be a central focus in Australian employment relations over the next 12 months, chief among them the imminent Productivity Commission review of the FW Act and related legislation.

 


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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.

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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.

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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
Partner 

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

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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
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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.

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Roberts-Gordon LLC

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