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IR advocates push for more regulation

In the third part of a six-piece investigation of industrial relations Noel Dyson ponders the value of consultants in the process.

MOVES are under way to bring stricter regulation to the way some consultants operate in the Western Australian industrial relations system.

Employment and Consumer Protection Minister John Kobelke told WA Business News that his office had received a number of complaints about industrial advocates that were “not doing their job”.

“The registration of advocates is something we want to fix up,” Mr Kobelke said.

The view that some advocates have not been providing suitable service, and that something needs to be done about them, seems to be widely held within the industry.

All of the industrial advocates that WA Business News spoke to said there were some “cowboys” in the system who were giving other players a bad name.

There have been numerous complaints of industrial advocates running cases in the WA com-mission that have no chance of success.

All this does is force employers to divert resources to a case that they probably should not have to deal with.

At the same time, however, managers are being forced to deal with increasing compliance work, reducing the amount of time they can spend on things such as human re-sources.

The role of the traditional human resources professional has changed, too. Instead of being involved with day-to-day human resources management, these people are now taking a more strategic role.

Some of the advocates WA Business News spoke to also agreed that the several tranches of change to WA’s industrial relations laws over the past decade had increased the role consultants played in the system.

Consultants, particularly industrial advocates, have become a growing part of the industrial relations scene both at the State and Federal level due to changes to the industrial laws over the past 10 years.

The State system allows industrial advocates to be registered to represent clients in the WA Industrial Relations Commission.

They also played a major role in helping businesses to prepare workplace agreements when that was introduced to the State system in the mid 1990s.

With workplace agreements removed from the system, these advocates have largely turned their hand to helping businesses register Australian Workplace Agreements under the Federal industrial relations system.

One advocate said writing AWAs had become a large part of his business because companies were “fleeing the WA system in droves”.

The Office of the Employment Advocate, the body charged with registering AWAs, has also made consultants a large part of the system.

It has created Industry Partners to help ease the load of AWAs it has to handle.

On its website the OEA says it now has more than 80 industry partners “who have been approved and endorsed by the Employment Advocate as having met the high standard of competence and experience in assisting employers in drafting and implementing AWAs”.

There are 14 Industry Partners in WA including AJ Durack Management, the Motor Trade Association of Australia, Cooper Piessse & Associates and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

AJ Durack Management director Tony Durack said he believed there were more options open to business in both the State and Federal systems and businesses needed advice on those options.

Small Business and Enterprise Association executive director Philip Achurch said his organisation received a lot of calls for advice when the Government started to abolish workplace agreements. However, Mr Achurch said he did not believe consultants played a huge role.

“As a business owner your options are to do it yourself, go to a lawyer, go to the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection or get a consultant,” he said.

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