In the midst of all the confusion about the industrial relations reforms, Katie Graham has some advice for employers and employees in the nation's 1.2 million-plus small and medium businesses.
Ms Graham, an industrial relations commentator and professional negotiator, said introducing some initiatives now could help employers avoid potential turmoil when the IR reforms came into effect.
Employers could start by organising workshops to offer employees information about the proposed IR policies, their probable impact on the workplace and the options open to staff, Ms Graham said.
Another initiative would be to redistribute among all staff the funds that might, up to now, have otherwise been spent on hiring independent consultants or on court proceedings to settle workplace disputes, especially in relation to companies faced with a plethora of different award schemes across the states and territories.
"Those sorts of costs will no longer apply under simplified IR policies. Even though in the short term there will be a little bit of work to be done in implementing the reforms, in the longer term, a lot of SMEs will save money," Ms Graham said.
She added that employers could also revisit dispute-resolution procedures.
"Above all else, employers should survey their employees now to understand their interests, so that future negotiated outcomes will be mutually beneficial and organisations will retain good personnel and a healthy culture."
Ms Graham's advice to nervous employees was to approach reform with a positive attitude and to use this time of change as a reason to start thinking about how they can better themselves.
"Entering discussions with cynicism and doubts can trigger defensiveness in your employer and increased power play," she said. "Employees should make efforts to understand all their options for the future, and increase their value right now. Upskilling and learning is available to all Australians, and will only increase your workplace alternatives and your ability to negotiate."
Ms Graham said there had been a reluctance to accept reform because not enough effort had been made to inform the public about how the policies would affect day-to-day living standards now and in the future, despite the federal government's significant spending on an information campaign.
Ms Graham is managing director of the Resolution Centre, which provides services in dispute resolution, change management and negotiations.
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