Rudd’s IR plan sharpens the choice

‘The challenge for us is always to get the balance right between fairness and flexibility. Mr Howard’s got that balance wrong. He went too far after he got control of the Senate at the last election and brought in an extreme Americanised system of industrial relations, which is just divisive.’

Kevin Rudd, MP

Rudd’s IR plan sharpens the choice

The right to collectively bargain, a decent safety net and an independent umpire underpin Labor`s new industrial relations policy.

The success of the union movement’s Your Rights At Work campaign and the unpopularity of the WorkChoices laws in the community has been underlined with the release of the Labor Party’s industrial relations policy and a backflip by John Howard.

Both, in vastly different ways, recognise that WorkChoices is seriously hurting working families, as the union movement has consistently said it would since it was introduced.

Labor’s policy promises to restore the fundamentals of a fair system ripped out by the Howard government: the right to bargain collectively, a substantial safety net of 10 national employment standards and a new body – Fair Work Australia – which will restore the role of the independent umpire.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said in the upcoming federal election – unlike the last one when John Howard did not release any details of Work-Choices – voters will know what they are voting for.

‘Labor has released its policy early for scrutiny and analysis so voters can make a choice. It is evident that on this very important issue for nurses the differences are sharp and clear,’ he said.

Brett Holmes said there were some aspects of Labor’s proposed system that the NSWNA has concerns about but the overall policy delivered the bulk of features the union wanted to see in an industrial relations system.

Kevin Rudd said Labor’s policy was about fairness and balance.

‘The challenge for us is always to get the balance right between fairness and flexibility. Mr Howard’s got that balance wrong. He went too far after he got control of the Senate at the last election and brought in an extreme Americanised system of industrial relations, which is just divisive,’ he said.

Key features of the ALP industrial relations policy

  • The policy abolishes AWA individual contracts and provides workers with a right to bargain collectively if that is what a majority of employees in a workplace want.
  • Penalty rates, overtime pay, and public holidays, which are stripped away under the Howard government’s IR laws, are protected in a safety net.
  • The policy ensures workers are protected from unfair dismissal.
  • Creation of a new and independent industrial umpire to maintain fairness in the workplace and set decent minimum wages and conditions for Australians workers.
  • New rights to assist working families balance work and caring responsibilities.
  • A new national IR system for the private sector.

Business protests against fairness

Labor’s proposal to scrap key components of the Howard government’s IR laws and inject fairness into workplace laws provoked an hysterical response from business organisations.

Business Council of Australia President Michael Chaney said that Labor’s new policy involved a ‘massive reregulation of employer-employee relations, which would turn the clock back on productivity and growth’.

The Chief Executive of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Peter Hendy, chastised the federal government for its minimal changes, claiming WorkChoices had a perfectly adequate safety net.

The chief spokespeople for the business organisations have very strong links to the Liberal Party.

Peter Hendy was Peter Reith’s former chief of staff during the Patrick waterfront dispute and during the children overboard incident.

Michael Chaney is the brother of former Liberal minister Fred Chaney. He’s on record as saying that fairness doesn’t have any place in the industrial relations system.

Business organisations have indicated they are likely to conduct TV campaigns in support of the Howard government’s laws.

WorkChoices is unfair, says Howard

John Howard has finally conceded that WorkChoices laws are unfair and has dished out a `safety net` with more holes than Swiss cheese.

For over 24 months, John Howard and a revolving door of ministers of workplace relations have been telling us that his federal IR laws would make us prosperous and secure, boost productivity and were critical to a modern economy.

He also accused unions of peddling lies and running a deceitful scare campaign.

Four months out from a federal election, it appears John Howard – after finally ‘listening to the Australian people’, now recognises what unions have been saying all along – WorkChoices is unfair.

An ACTU analysis of Howard’s new so-called ‘fairness test’ argues that the Howard government has failed to address major problems with the laws that are hurting working families:

  • there are no new protections from unfair dismissal;
  • there are no guarantees of financial compensation for the loss of penalty rates, overtime pay, public holiday loadings and other cuts to workers’ take-home pay;
  • there are no limits on the power of employers to control rosters;
  • employers can still insist that workers sign an AWA individual contract and say ‘take it or leave it’;
  • many ordinary union activities remain illegal and individual workers can still be fined up to $6,000 if the government decides that a strike is ‘illegal’.

While John Howard argues the new test is a reintroduction of the no-disadvantage test abolished by WorkChoices, the ACTU says there are major loopholes that will allow employers to avoid the test and leave many workers worse off:

  • it does not apply to workers on existing AWA individual contracts;
  • it does not ensure that workers receive fair pay rises;
  • it does not ensure workers receive financial compensation for the loss of award conditions;
  • young people, unemployed people, sole parents and disabled people wanting work are not protected;
  • any employer that is in difficult ‘economic circumstances’ need not provide compensation;
  • workers in regional and country areas are not protected under the ‘fairness test’.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said Australian workers will not be fooled by the changes. ‘These laws are bad. John Howard’s admitted that, but tinkering at the edges won’t make them good laws.

‘Working families will see through this. We will continue to campaign against these laws. The only way you can fix these laws is to see them thrown out.’

Julia Gillard, Labor’s Workplace Relations spokesperson, also made it clear she thought Howard’s changes were a pure political ploy.

‘Mr Howard has defended his WorkChoices regime even though it was ripping workers off. Now, four months before an election, he heralds a change. This is just about election day and no one in this country should believe that a re-elected Howard government will keep any of these changes, then it will be back to business as usual, letting workers get ripped off,’ she said.