In this article Dan Williams shares his insights from chairing an employment law panel at the recent AMPLA national conference held in Brisbane.

I had the privilege to chair a panel on the Future of Work at the AMPLA National Conference in Brisbane on 17 October 2019.

Joining me on the interactive panel was Commissioner Jennifer Hunt from the Fair Work Commission, Chris Murdoch QC, Andrew Rich (Principal Lawyer at Slater Gordon) and Kylee Creighton (Head of Legal, Upstream at Origin Energy).

The panel discussed a scenario concerning a fraught transition from a mine operation based on mine haul trucks staffed by a fleet of truck drivers to a mine plan based on automated mine vehicles, in the context of a fictitious open cut mine project in the Galilee Basin.

The discussion traversed many issues, including:

  • The complexity of our industrial relations system and the rights and remedies available to employers and employees within it
  • The dispute resolution powers of the Fair Work Commission and its role in helping parties find sustainable solutions in change processes
  • The challenges of managing community and stakeholder expectations in a future where new projects may bring less than previously in the way of long-term employment opportunities in the regional community.

These issues, which are likely to play out in various resources and other industries over the next decade or so, were thoroughly explored from several different perspectives (employer, union, Fair Work Commission and stakeholder relations) via a spirited hypothetical-style discussion amongst the panel.

For example, businesses contemplating a transition will have to give focussed consideration to:

  • The bargaining, consultation and dispute resolution aspects of industrial relations transitions and the delay risk associated with the resolution of disputes
  • The risks of including clauses in enterprise agreements (for example about job security) which appear to be aspirational but which may be given binding operation by a Court
  • The adverse action risk associated with making operational decisions which affect jobs based on relative labour costs of different options
  • The different value proposition for local communities of a project depending on its capacity to create enduring employment opportunities.

It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to consider the issues and present them in this interactive format with such an expert and articulate panel.