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Ai Group welcomes release of first two IR discussion papers

"The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) welcomes the release today of the first two in a series of Australian Government industrial relations discussion papers. The model of using discussion papers to ventilate areas of potential industrial relations reform is a positive way to stimulate considered debate and discussion on areas of significant concern in Australian workplaces," Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said today.

"In releasing the discussion papers, the Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter, has identified several areas that require careful, evidence-based analysis, and potentially some changes. Areas mentioned by the Minister include the meaning of casual employment, overly complex enterprise agreement processes, and a lack of flexibility for employers and employees. These are all vital areas where some measured changes are needed.

"The first discussion paper on Project Life Greenfields Agreements addresses an important issue. At present, the maximum nominal term for an enterprise agreement is four years. However, many major projects continue for longer periods, for example, the Snowy Hydro 2.0 Project is projected to continue for five to six years.

"Enterprise agreements that cover work on major projects should be able to continue for the life of the project even if this is longer than the current four-year limit. This reform should not be limited to greenfields agreements. Regular enterprise agreements commonly regulate work on major projects; not just greenfields agreements.

"The second discussion paper on Strengthening Penalties for Non-compliance needs very careful consideration. Deliberate underpayment of wages is of course unacceptable, and strong laws are already in place to deter and punish this unlawful conduct. The civil penalties for breaching awards and pay record-keeping requirements were increased by up to 20 times in 2017, and a well-resourced regulator (the Fair Work Ombudsman) is in place to enforce the laws. The current hefty civil penalties are appropriate. Exposing employers to criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for underpayments would risk discouraging investment and employment.

"Ai Group will consider the issues raised in the discussion papers carefully and consult with member companies. We will file detailed submissions in response to the discussion papers by the due dates in late October and early November," Mr Willox said.

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