The Productivity Commission will conduct a wide-ranging review into Australia’s workplace relations system to examine penalty rates, the minimum wage, disputes, how people bargain in the system, unfair dismissal and anti-bullying laws.

Yesterday the Productivity Commission released five issues papers relating to its current public inquiry which were welcome by the Australian Retailers Association (ARA).

“This review will finally address major flaws in the Fair Work Act that are driving up unemployment and undermining growth in the retail sector,” said ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman.

“In order to create more employment opportunities for Australians, retail wages need to be flexible. It is also imperative that excessive penalty rates are addressed, as unrealistic penalty rates have made many businesses unviable over the last year.

“There’s no denying the fact that retailers would employ more staff if they did not have to pay penalty rates. However, seeking to be the voice of reason, the ARA is not calling for penalty rates to be abolished altogether but there is a strong need to get the balance right. Only then can retailers operate competitively on weekends and offer increased employment opportunities,” Zimmerman said.

The Australian Government asked the Commission to undertake the broad inquiry into Australia’s workplace relations system in late December 2014. The Commission is due to release its report by the end of November 2015, and will produce a draft report midyear.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said unions will use the Productivity Commission inquiry into workplace laws to make the case for significant improvements in Australian’s rights at work.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the Abbott Government initiated the inquiry as a tool to pursue its obsession with workplace relations and issues like penalty rates and individual contracts.

“The Government wants this process to take workers backwards but we are determined to push for improvements,” she said.

“We know people hold passionate views about workplace relations,” said chair of the Commission Peter Harris. “I’d like to emphasise that the Commission is open-minded, and our approach will be evidence-based and impartial. We know that a workplace relations system goes beyond its important economic impacts, and will take account of the human and social elements of what is at stake. We are required by our legislation to account of benefits to the community as a whole, and not any particular interest group.”

The Commission is seeking public submissions which are due by Friday 13 March 2015.