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Industrial relations: a study by the Confederation of Australian Industry indicates that managers need training to negotiate award restructuring and enterprise based bargaining

PETER THOMPSON: In Melbourne, with the National Wage Case beginning today, a study by the Confederation of Australian Industry shows that management often lacks the industrial relations skills to benefit from award restructuring. The Executive Director of the Confederation, Ian Spicer, says the implications are frightening because it means the benefits of enterprise bargaining could be lost. Mr Spicer spoke to Ian Mannix.

IAN SPICER: .... the managers that we surveyed, clearly identified that they have a need to improve their skills in industrial relations. And if we extend that further, I guess we can conclude that we haven't squeezed as much out of the award restructuring process as we should have. Now clearly there are some companies that have done extremely well out of award restructuring, but we would have liked to have seen much greater gains, much more benefit coming out of award restructuring across the board and hopefully, if we can gain some additional skill and experience in management as this report indicates, that will still be able to be achieved.

IAN MANNIX: In this report management has identified its own shortcomings. Can this be some sort of a turning point in Australian industrial practices, that they now recognise there are problems on both sides of the ledger?

IAN SPICER: I think it's extremely important that management now has recognised that industrial relations is changing, that it is going to come down more and more to the work place; that as a result of that individual managers, right down to the first line supervisor, is going to have to make decisions on industrial relations and therefore I think they've now recognised that they really need to improve their skills to handle that change. And that's good because that means that we'll be able to achieve that changed process to enterprise base negotiation and enterprise based industrial relations with a minimal of disruption.

If we are really serious about trying to get industrial relations closer to the enterprise, then there is no question at all that the improvement that management itself has indicated as necessary will have to be achieved. That will require much more resources to be put into the process; we will have to develop more specialised training courses for senior managers, right down to first line supervisors and it will be a massive training program. But if we don't do it, yeah, you're right, the whole enterprise base bargaining process could very well fall over.

IAN MANNIX: It's surprising isn't it that this report defines negotiating skills as one area where managers say they lack confidence. Negotiating skills impact on every area of industry such as marketing, research and development production, so does this indicate there is a basic flaw in management ability, not just in industrial relations?

IAN SPICER: No, I don't think it does. I think the negotiating skills that they're referring to are clearly those that relate to industrial relations, relate to negotiating with trade union officials across the table or on the shop floor.

IAN MANNIX: Can you understand people shaking their head and saying we've been talking about industrial relations and personnel relations for years and years, what on earth is stopping Australian management from taking up the challenge?

IAN SPICER: Well, I can understand people saying that. But the simple fact is that we have run industrial relations in this country in a very formalised way through an industrial relations commission for 80 years. For almost a century we've been running our industrial relations in a very different way to that which we're now proposing.

PETER THOMPSON: Ian Spicer from the Confederation of Australian Industry, in Melbourne with Ian Mannix.