Employers must stop spreading spreading misleading information about Australia’s productivity growth before the problem can be turned around.

In a speech today, ACTU Assistant Secretary Tim Lyons said unions embraced a productivity growth agenda but not at the cost of workplace rights.

“Labour laws are not the cause of our productivity problems, and they’re not the solution,” Mr Lyons said during an address to the Industrial Relations Society of Victoria today.

“Australia’s relatively low productivity growth is a long-term problem, and one that has been in place for at least a decade. WorkChoices didn’t fix it, and Fair Work hasn’t made it worse.

The ACTU today releases a new research paper, Working By Numbers: Separating rhetoric and reality on Australian productivity, to contribute to the productivity debate and to counter employers’ rhetoric, which is nothing more than a partisan agenda to slash the rights to workers.

“Unions want Australian businesses to be economically sustainable and profitable precisely because we want a share of it for ordinary workers,” Mr Lyons said.

“There is nothing more pointless than arguing about how you share a surplus if there isn’t one there in the first place.”

“If employers want to have a genuine discussion about productivity, about securing national prosperity and sharing it fairly, we are up for that. But what we are not up for, and what we will fight, is a return to a WorkChoices style prescription of lower wages and conditions and reduced rights at work.” 

Mr Lyons said employers were irresponsible in their continued blame of the Fair Work Act for the decline in Australia’s rate of productivity growth.

“There are a number of potential explanations of Australia’s productivity slowdown – which began in the 1990s, did not improve under WorkChoices and has not worsened under the Fair Work Act.

“The prime suspects are the effects of the mining boom, and the effects of an OECD-wide slowdown in the rate of productivity growth. Underinvestment in infrastructure and skills are also important factors, as is managerial complacency about productivity in the face of strong and rising profits in many sectors, and record terms of trade.”

Mr Lyons said the real sources of sustainable productivity growth were increased investment in education, training, infrastructure, technology and innovation.

He said the employer-fuelled productivity myths were part of a wider campaign against the Fair Work Act and workers’ rights, which was also peddling misinformation about industrial action and unfair dismissal laws.