Fair Work Amendment (Bargaining Processes) Bill not a reasonable response to the economic issue of productivity

February 1, 2015

ALHR has made a submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment’s inquiry into the Fair Work Amendment (Bargaining Processes) Bill 2014.

ALHR’s primary concerns are that the Bill (1) should not on its face breach the human rights of persons affected by that legislation; and (2) should not be capable of being applied so as to infringe those persons’ rights.

The Bill appears to be based on an economic claim that is arguable: that any single increase in wages without productivity growth is bad for a country’s economy.

But even if one accepts this argument:

  1. Labour productivity differs enormously between industries, not because some workers work harder than others but because different capital values are taken into account in the calculations ie ‘productivity’ in the economic sense is not a measure of hard work alone, as the Bill seems to imply;
  2. According to the Governor of the Reserve Bank, labour productivity is generally growing in Australia;
  3. The argument does not necessarily hold true on a micro or individual company basis (as the Bill effectively requires);
  4. Applications for higher wages are most likely to be driven by cost of living issues – like the excessively high accommodation prices in Sydney – which will remain the same irrespective of productivity within a particular company or industry;
  5. How will the Bill apply if the workers in question are already very productive? Because meeting their wage claim will impose an additional cost on the employer, can the employer argue that this will reduce the employer’s overall productivity?

ALHR believes that a human rights framework will strengthen employment legislation in Australia by appropriately balancing the various obligations. This Bill does not reflect an appropriate balance. The Bill is not a reasonable, necessary or proportionate response to the economic issue of productivity and unreasonably undermines employees’ rights.

Full submission here: ALHR submission on Fair Work Amendment (Bargaining Processes) Bill