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Fair Work is working well: Evans -

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TICKY FULLERTON, PRESENTER: To hear his assessment of the shifting IR landscape, I spoke earlier to
the federal Minister for Industrial Relations, Chris Evans.

Minister Chris Evans, welcome to the program.

CHRIS EVANS, MINISTER FOR SKILLS, JOBS AND TERTIARY EDUCATION: My pleasure.

TICKY FULLERTON: So far you say we've got constrained wages growth, 3.8 per cent over the past 12
months. What do you see for the next year?

CHRIS EVANS: Well the budget predicts four per cent over the next year. We think that's right. What
we're seeing is the system working pretty well and we're hopeful of constrained wage outcomes.
We've seen a record number of agreements and we're seeing low industrial disputation.

So despite some of the fear-mongering, all the signs are that the new act's working well and that
the system is delivering the sort of outcomes we'd like.

TICKY FULLERTON: You talk about fear-mongering, but this huge construction project at the Wonthaggi
desalination plant is pretty watershed - a 27 per cent increase with no increase in productivity.
Shouldn't businesses be worried about this?

CHRIS EVANS: Well, look, the first thing to say to business is: they negotiate these agreements.
It's no good coming out after they've had the negotiation and saying these are terrible outcomes.
When the business asked for enterprise bargaining, the Government's delivered on a system of
enterprise bargaining.

Business has got to get in there and bargain and try and make sure that the outcomes are reasonable
ones. So that's the first point. I think the second point to say is that each has got to be
assessed on the merits of the particular enterprise and what they're negotiating, and so it's hard
for people from the outside to make judgments about those things.

But overall, wages growth is constrained and industrial disputation is down.

TICKY FULLERTON: The landscape does seem to be shifting not the way business would like it though.

We've now got this Fair Work Australia decision to allow strikes before bargaining commences that
the union calls a win for workers, but the peak body ACCI calls opening a door to a return to the
industrial chaos in the workplace.

CHRIS EVANS: Well that's the sort of inflated rhetoric that doesn't help. I mean, we have a
decision from Fair Work Australia, a decision that is appealable and has been appealed. And what we
know from that decision is effectively it turned on whether or not an employer could refuse to
bargain in good faith.

TICKY FULLERTON: You say that particular decision is appealable, but before the laws were
introduced, didn't the Government say that an employer would not be forced into bargaining unless
there was majority support from workers?

CHRIS EVANS: Look, there's never been a system which has anticipated the fact that someone refusing
to bargain would mean therefore that people had no rights. I mean, the opposite of what's been
found would be to say that if an employer just said we're not prepared to bargain, that's it.
There's no capacity for industrial action or progressing of an enterprise bargaining process.
That's clearly not acceptable.

TICKY FULLERTON: It's just that this ruling seems to be interpreted more broadly than that. Heather
Ridout from AIG says it creates more risks for employers, particularly those who don't want to
enter into an enterprise bargaining agreement.

CHRIS EVANS: Well, look, all I can say is let's examine each of these decisions dispassionately.

Secondly, people can pursue their appeal rights if they want to and we've seen people do that, and
we've seen outcomes for instance in the student casual pay case, where on appeal, or as a result of
a new case in fact, the employers won the outcome that they were seeking.

So, I think if people could be a bit more moderate, give the system a little more time, remember
the act's only been in place 18 months, use the full range of opportunities that are provided in
the act, we can have a perhaps more intelligent discourse about what's really happening.

TICKY FULLERTON: I see in the last couple of days the Baillieu Victorian Government taking matters
into its own hands, announcing a review of IR principles for builders tendering for State
Government work.

Now, do you see this as a way of putting back a tougher building code for employers?

CHRIS EVANS: Look, this is obviously something that's open to the Victorian Government. We just
urge them to consult with us and to make sure that it's consistent with the national approach. But
this is a matter for the Victorian Government and they haven't briefed me yet on what they're
doing.

TICKY FULLERTON: Do you think that we have a looming skills shortage in Australia?

CHRIS EVANS: Oh, look, there's no doubt there's a skills challenge. I mean, we're seeing a record
amount of investment coming our way, particularly in key industries like mining and oil and gas,
and we're going to have critical shortage of skills.

That's why the Government's budget was very much focused on trying to address that and do as much
as we can to make sure we train Australians for the skilled jobs that are available. But there is
going to be pressure on skills, no doubt.

TICKY FULLERTON: Now, the CMFEU argues that it's dangerous to talk about a skills shortage,
particularly as workers are coming off those big contracts for the BER and they warn against the
Government introducing guest workers.

CHRIS EVANS: Well, the Government's point of view is that we need to train more Australians, we
need to give them the opportunity to fill skilled jobs first, but we're also going to need
migration programs to meet those skills challenges.

It's about the balance, it's about prioritising Australian opportunities first, but we will need a
mixture of greater investment in skills training and increased migration.

TICKY FULLERTON: Chris Evans, I thank you very much for joining the program.

CHRIS EVANS: My pleasure.