‘A rigid and outdated system’: ARA welcomes new approach to industrial relations, training

Scott Morrison’s plan to overhaul industrial relations and vocational education in Australia is welcome news to the ARA’s new CEO Paul Zahra, who says the current systems are outdated and holding retailers back.

“We live in a world where Australians can choose to shop 24/7. Retailers need to be able to operate flexibly to meet the demands of their customers. When they are constrained by outdated regulation and training, it negatively impacts Australians, retailers and their employees,” Zahra said in a media statement after the prime minister spoke to the National Press Club on Tuesday.

The address outlined two key points in Morrison’s so-called “JobMaker” program: industrial relations and vocational education.

The prime minister said the current industrial relations system is not fit-for-purpose, especially given the scale of the jobs challenge that Australia now faces as a nation.

“Our industrial relations system has settled into a complacency of unions seeking marginal benefits and employers closing down risks, often by simply not employing anyone,” Morrison said.

“The system has lost sight of its purpose – to get the workplace settings right, so the enterprise, the business can succeed, so everybody can fairly benefit from their efforts and their contributions.”

Zahra agreed that the current Retail Award is not working for businesses or their employees.

“The current Retail Award has us locked into a rigid and outdated system of inflexible hours.  where retailers are unable to honor the working needs and preferences of their teams,” he said.

Zahra said the ARA would like to see more allowance for flexibility and a more pragmatic and balanced approach on issues such as penalty rates and trading hours.

“The complexity of the current Award system is creating a substantial amount of the challenges that we are seeing. There are hundreds of rates of pay that can apply under the retail award, related to such areas as: the role the employee is performing, their tasks, their age and, most critically, the way they work their hours,” he said.

On the topic of job training, Morrison said vocational education should have more input from industries about the skills future workers really need and be more transparent and consistent across states.

“We need Australians better trained for the jobs businesses are looking to create,” he said.

Under his plan, there would also be greater consistency between the vocational education and training, and higher education sectors.

The National Skills Commission will provide detailed labour market analysis and other up-to-date data in a bid to identify emerging skills shortages.

Zahra said the ARA welcomes a renewed focus which links funding with the skills that businesses really need.

“COVID-19 has accelerated retail transformation as we are operating in a consumer landscape that is active 24/7 through online and social channels and with multiple paths to the delivery of products and services. As businesses adapt to this new reality, they need a workforce that is equipped and ready to address these new opportunities,” he said.

Morrison also rejected calls for government to play a major role in recovery over a longer period of time.

“At some point, you’ve got to get your economy out of ICU,” he said.

“You’ve got to get it off the medication before it becomes too accustomed to it.”

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