By William Olson
As both the union movement and the business lobby continue to maintain their poker faces in the ongoing industrial relations reforms discussions in Sydney and Canberra, KPMG – one of the major players in the business lobby – has risked the integrity of the negotiations after a document of theirs was leaked this week.
The Guardian reported in its online editions on Friday that KPMG, after having been invited by both the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) to partake in the negotiations, were excluded from two end-of-week discussions with immediate effect after their document detailing proposed wide-ranging changes to the industrial relations landscape.
And those proposals being discussed by five key focus groups – two groups of which KPMG are partaking in – are still considered to be works in progress, to be determined between now and the panels’ adjournment in September.
KPMG, for the purpose of the layperson, is a professional services firm with global reach, and deep expertise in audit and assurance, tax and advisory, and management and risk consulting. An examination of their corporate values also details words such as “integrity”, “excellence”, and “courage”.
“Integrity” sits right at the very top of their list of corporate values. And with great objectivity, somehow the open disclosure of details of ongoing discussions in a summit’s culture where both major combatants are – for reasons of great protection to themselves – keeping the news and progress of the ongoing negotiations close to their vests, “integrity” might not be the best word to describe what they have done.
Especially when these actions may jeopardise the progress and process of negotiations not just for their business lobby colleagues, but the to-and-fro discussions from both sides altogether.
The working classes, hoping to come away with better rights and conditions after all negotiations are said and done, likely wouldn’t lose much sleep – or might even be rejoicing – over a setback from the business lobby during these negotiations. However, what does this mean for the current point in time of the negotiations, and also in the context of what may be yet to come?
An understanding of the contents of the document in question – ironically entitled, “Working Together For Reform” – may be required, now that the proverbial horse has bolted from the barn. It details the following:
- the wrinkles of working from home and JobKeeper in the context of award simplification;
- the extending of greater powers to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to alter employees’ shifts and schedules, whereas this has been the domain of employers, managers and supervisors in the past;
- generally speaking, using the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses as a means to alter or “vary” workers’ awards, as one application to “simplify” them;
- giving the FWC the power to “vary” workers’ awards, under the circumstances of the pandemic;
- instituting an “Employee Share Schemes” structure, similar to a U.S.-based industrial relations model, purported to “better align interests of employees and employers,” in order to bring about greater productivity;
- with regard to enterprise agreements, putting a greater and more literal emphasis on the Better Off Overall Test in the means of collective bargaining against awards;
- and the altering of Greenfields agreements to cover the life of a project, as opposed to the first six months of a given project.
The business lobby, as detailed in KPMG’s document, would seek to amend the Fair Work Act of 2009 in order to install the above aims.
It is also important to ascertain that Scott Gartrell, KPMG’s workplace relations advisory partner as well as being their main representative in these negotiations, had been scheduled to speak on a panel for Friday, but was dropped as of Thursday evening.
In the aftermath of the leaking of the document, Gartrell had told The Guardian that his organisation’s engagement with the other working groups was “subject to confidentiality.” By this time, the concept of confidentiality exists, at least for the time being, as being irrelevant.
The negotiations, with or without the reinstatement of Gartrell or even the involvement of KPMG, will continue. And they will continue through to the September deadline. But as KPMG has inadvertently tipped the hand held by the business groups’ lobby, an argument can be made that the process of fair, objective negotiating has been compromised.
Whether the ACTU and the union groups in attendance can take advantage of this twist of fate remains to be seen. According to ACTU president Michele O’Neil, a yardstick of success would consist of meeting its goals of no worker being worse off as a result of any proposals as a minimum expectation and that better job security would constitute a victory for the union movement.
Nonetheless, any momentum would have to belong to the ACTU in these industrial relations reform negotiations at this point.
Also by William Olson:
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