Business leaders and heavy hitters in the Howard government are singing from the same song sheet when it comes to industrial relations and it appears WorkChoices is only the first verse.
Nick Minchin, the leader of the Federal Government in the Senate and number three in the Howard Government, has flagged the possibility of even more radical industrial relations changes to follow in the footsteps of WorkChoices if the Coalition wins the next election.
Minchin was speaking to the HR Nicholls society, a right-wing ginger group that has campaigned for decades to abolish Australia’s award system and the IR Commission. He apologised to his business audience that the government’s new industrial relations laws didn’t go far enough and argued strongly for another wave of change.
According to the online news service Workplace Express, Minchin said it was ‘ridiculous’ for the government’s opponents to say WorkChoices was ‘extravagant and radical reform’.
‘This is evolution, not revolution, and there is still a long way to go … awards, the IR Commission, all the rest of it,’ he said.
While John Howard quickly distanced himself from Minchin’s remarks, he was backed up by another Coalition heavy hitter, Environment Minister Ian Campbell, who said he also believed further IR reform was inevitable.
Minchin’s view that the government’s new laws were only the first stage was also shared by Peter Hendy, head of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and a former Chief-of-staff for Peter Reith when he was Minister for Workplace Relations.
‘There is still much centralised decision making left with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission,’ Hendy told ABC radio.
‘There is still too much reliance on the award system, which is a centralised system that is based in the city of Melbourne for the whole of Australia.’
NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said the conversations the Howard government is having behind closed doors with business leaders should make nurses very vigilant about what the future holds.
‘John Howard did not tell the Australian people before the last election about his workplace changes. He didn’t give any indication that he was going to trash the unfair dismissal laws, penalty rates, overtime and public holidays. There wasn’t a word about putting individual contracts that cut take home pay and conditions at the centre of workplace relations,’ he said.
‘While the NSW Labor government has given some real protection for public hospital nurses, private sector nurses and aged care nurses are still vulnerable. And if the Howard government is determined to pass more anti-worker laws after the next election no one will be safe.’
Pinch to kick in next recession
In another address to the HR Nicholls Society conference, respected IR academic John Buchanan predicted that the consequences of Howard’s workplace laws will be felt most fully with the next economic downturn. If the economy sours people will be dumped from their jobs and re-engaged, he said.
Buchanan predicts that within five to ten years there will be a six-fold increase in AWAs, covering 15% of the workforce and awards will shrink from the current 20% of workers to 5-10%.
Private lawyers dine out on federal government’s IR changes
The Howard government has given $750,000 to external law firms to draft its new industrial relations laws. The total cost is expected to eventually top
$1 million, according to the Australian Financial Review.
Dud WorkChoices hotline costs $80 a call
The hotline set up by the Howard government to explain its federal IR changes was a monumental flop, with each call costing $80 each. According to a senate committee, the government spent $4 million to set up three call centres to respond to workers’ inquiries. Between 9 October and 9 December they received 49,000 inquiries – only 0.5% of the national workforce.
Ex-Howard staffers pocket half a million for spin
The federal government has also outsourced its latest public relations contract for the IR changes to two former staffers from John Howard’s office, Keith Wells and Grahame Morris. The Daily Telegraph reported the contract is worth up to $500,000.
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