By David Bates

Well here we are, just two weeks away from the end of another calendar year.

As our federal politicians return to their constituencies and most (but certainly not all) businesses begin to wind down, it’s timely to look back and see what was – and wasn’t – achieved on the industrial relations front in 2016.

First - the good news.

The two rejected bills which took us to an unexpected double dissolution election – the Registered Organisations legislation and the law re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) – were both finally approved by the Senate.


Sadly, that’s where the good news ends. Because while the Registered Organisations changes were long-overdue, the ABCC legislation was significantly weakened by amendments which rewarded big construction firms like Lendlease that signed up to union-friendly Enterprise Agreements despite knowing full well that a new – and much tougher Code –  was on its way.

Instead of holding these companies and the CFMEU to account, the government allowed a two-year lead-in period, meaning when they lose the next election and Labor is returned to power, all this hard work will ultimately have been for nothing.

This from a government which claims to support free enterprise and oppose union thuggery. Go figure.

More bad news came our way in the form of the 7-Eleven wages scandal. As events unfolded, we discovered it wasn’t just dodgy employers who were ripping off employees. It turns out that plenty of well-meaning employers were unintentionally underpaying their employees due to genuine confusion about the world’s most hopelessly complex employment laws.

This year, we also discovered Coles had signed an Enterprise Agreement with one of the nation’s largest unions – the SDA – which resulted in more than 30,000 mostly part-time and casual employees losing some of their penalty rates to help fund wage increases for those full-time employees who more likely to be union members.


This Agreement should never have been approved by the Fair Work Commission in the first place, and it took a lot of time – and many angry employees – to finally have it overturned. Remember this case the next time you hear a union claim that it supports penalty rates.

And last but not least, 2016 was the year that gave us the embarrassing spectacle that was the long-overdue resignation of Fair Work Commission Vice-President, Michael Lawler. His departure finally concluded a saga which has caused immense damage to the Commission’s reputation.

Here’s hoping 2017 is a better year for Australia’s employers and its honest, hard-working employees.