Imminent changes to the nation’s IR landscape are causing some angst in the business community.
WESTERN Australia's industrial relations consultants are bracing for a hectic year ahead, with the federal government's Fair Work Act set to take effect from July 1.
There are concerns in business circles about the new IR legislation, which includes greater union right of entry provisions, emphasises collective bargaining, and sets new good faith bargaining rules.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA is poised to remain one the busiest IR service providers, with its Employee Relations Advice Centre fielding more than 16,000 calls in the past year regarding the shift in the workplace relations landscape.
Updated data for the WA Business News Book of Lists shows that, with 26 industrial consultants, CCIWA remains the largest workplace relations service provider in the state (see page 16).
In a recent interview with WA Business News, the chamber's workplace relations director, Marcia Kuhne, said changes to unfair dismissal laws were a concern for business with the government set to replace the current system with an informal claims process.
"What the government has tried to do is to simplify the process, but we think that in simplifying the process they may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater," she said.
Employment Services and Solutions director Graham Lilleyman said he was battling to get clients from the small business, retail and hospitality sectors to focus on the imminent legislative changes.
"The reintroduction of the unfair dismissal laws, though, is obviously a major factor for everyone; the vast majority of our clients haven't had to deal with that issue for the past three years," he said.
"It's coming back in only a couple of weeks and people are starting to think about it, but of course they've got other things on their minds at the moment, such as the general economic situation and the emissions trading scheme.
"The government is rushing towards a deadline here and the new laws start in two weeks' time - the unfair dismissal laws, the enterprise bargaining laws and various union right of entry laws, so the laws are likely to be in place prior to the delivery of any training and people will be flying blind for a period of time.
"The issue is the fact nobody has any real significant understanding of what the impact of these things will be."
Strategic Human Resources principal consultant and director, Colin Gibson, said his West Perth-based firm's partners - Steve Scott, Kim Davis and John Flood - were gearing up for a busy year.
He said the firm's clients were principally in the resources sector, covering oil and gas and mining, as well as construction and maintenance.
"I think for our clients there's a degree of concern around right of entry issues," he said.
"Probably, I think there's also a lack of understanding how the new agreement-making structures, particularly with the national employment standards and modern awards, and then the enterprise agreements all meshing in together, so just how exactly all that's going to play out.
"Any change for a client, particularly those in major businesses, represents risk.
"Industrial relations is simply a risk-management process ... any time you get industrial legislative change, it changes the risk profile, and clients need to develop new understandings in relation to where their risk lay and how they want to manage that risk."
Australian Mines & Metals Association director workplace operations, Tony Caccamo, said right of entry provisions were also of concern for his clients, as well as the new good faith bargaining rules.
"Our members want direct engagement with employees," he said.
Australian Medical Association (WA) executive director Paul Boyatzis said his members remained concerned about cuts to the health system and proposed provisions forcing young doctors to work long hours with unpaid overtime.