There is nothing to be gained from increasing the regulatory burden on employers in an effort to boost equal opportunity outcomes, the ACCI has told the review of the Equal Opportunity for Women Agency. There has been a considerable culture change over the past decade since the last agency review as businesses recognise the need to attract and retain talent, its submission to the review said. This shift can be maintained “through sustained education, assistance and promotion” rather than more regulation, it said. It acknowledges the shift appears to have been driven by “a mix of hard (regulation) and soft (education) policy” but believes “sustained education, assistance and promotion” can maintain the cultural shift into the future. There is already a “real regulatory and compliance issue” for employers attempting “to comply with multiple jurisdictions and sometimes conflicting duties” in this area, ie between “OHS or anti-sexual harassment measures vs unfair dismissal”. “Whilst some may argue that the current sanctions are too soft, a firm’s reputation is paramount in the business world and among the community,” it said. There are also unintended consequences, such as the disproportionate push on family-friendly initiatives that can leave younger workers who don’t have children believing they are disadvantaged in favour of those with children.
Unions using new IR laws to hamper women’s ability to gain flexibilities
ACCI also argues the way some unions are opposing use of Fair Work’s individual flexibility clause is preventing employers providing some individual workers with conditions they request. It cites action by the AMWU at Campbells that stopped a woman obtaining changes to her work arrangements because the union argued changes had to be agreed by the team. Regulation is also increasing under the Fair Work Act, such as via its National Employment Standards requirements, the submission said. It says the govt should investigate the extent to which Fair Work changes are obstructing women from obtaining flexible work. ACCI believes the EOWA (“or its successor” if it is combined with the Office of Women) should consider providing additional assistance to non-reporting firms to develop their own voluntary initiatives and policies. Reporting obligations should be eased, particularly for smaller firms – and the reporting threshold should not be reduced. It calls for the govt to fund the EOWA and ACCI to research a mechanism for the identification of talented small business women for participation on corporate boards, the submission says.