Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Coalition 'hiding' plans for industrial relations reform, say unions

Extract from The Guardian

Australian Council of Trade Unions warns Coalition government will bring back Howard-era WorkChoices

The ACTU’s secretary, Dave Oliver: ‘Why haven’t [the Coalition] released its industrial relations policies? What have they got to hide?’
The ACTU’s secretary, Dave Oliver: ‘Why haven’t [the Coalition] released its industrial relations policies? What have they got to hide?’ Photograph: Tracey Nearmy/AAP
John Howard has said industrial relations reform is “unfinished business” and noted the Turnbull government had not ruled out changes in the area.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions has warned that the fact the government has not responded to a major workplace relations report means it has “something to hide”, and will bring back policies similar to the unpopular Howard-era WorkChoices.
Speaking on Sky on Monday, the former prime minister said: “Industrial relations and taxation reform remain unfinished business in this country, and at some point they need to be addressed.
“And I don’t see anything in what the government has said to rule that out. But as to when it happens and what form it takes is obviously a matter for the government of the day.”
In December 2014, the Abbott government asked the Productivity Commission to review workplace relations laws, including penalty rates for work on weekends and public holidays.
In December 2015, the commission’s final report recommended cutting Sunday penalty rates to Saturday levels in some industries, making it harder for workers who had been unfairly dismissed to get their jobs back, and introducing a new form of contract that could be offered to new employees on a “take it or leave it” basis.
The government has said the Fair Work Commission will continue to set penalty rates. But despite promising a response to the major report before the election, the Turnbull government has still not responded to the other recommendations.
The ACTU secretary, Dave Oliver, queried why after the longest election campaign in recent times the government had not released its full industrial relations policies.
“The question on everyone’s lips is: where is it?” he said. “Why haven’t they released it and what have they got to hide?
“It’s no wonder John Howard is out there talking about industrial relations reform. WorkChoices was about watering down unfair dismissal, diminishing the capacity of the independent umpire and take it or leave it contracts.
“The Productivity Commission report contains very similar things.”
Enterprise contracts would allow businesses to move groups of employees off the award on to the new instrument, provided the new contract met a no-disadvantage test.
However, if employees did not think their new conditions were more favourable they would have to complain to an independent regulator and challenge the agreement, or wait 12 months to revert to award pay.
Oliver said this meant that enterprise contracts could reduce award conditions and would “further diminish the bargaining capacity of workers”.
“Nobody buys that an individual worker, someone who stacks the shelves at a major retail outlet, can bargain with their employer,” he said. “What sort of bargaining capacity do they have against a multinational retailer?”
Oliver said it was “highly likely the government will push for some form of industrial relations reform” in the next term.
“There’s no way the government can claim to have a mandate on anything on industrial relations,” he said.
According to the Australian Electoral Commission a total of 1.77 million Australians have voted already: 1.17 million who voted early and 600,000 who have returned postal votes.
Other aspects of industrial relations policy the government has addressed include a promised crackdown on employers who underpay workers and powers for courts to ban union officials for repeated industrial law breaches.
But when asked about the Productivity Commission report on Monday and Tuesday last week, the Coalition’s campaign spokesman, Mathias Cormann, said the government was going through an “orderly and methodical process” releasing its policies. He did not say why it had left industrial relations so late in the eight-week campaign.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s chief executive, James Pearson, said it had supported recommendations in the report, including making it easier for employers and employees to form agreements and greater enforcement of the secondary boycott prohibitions.
“The Coalition’s workplace relations policy, expected this week, is likely to respond to the Productivity Commission recommendations,” Pearson said. “I look forward to examining the detail when the policy is announced.”
The chamber supported the proposal for an enterprise contract, but asked the government to consider individual statutory contracts such as Australian workplace agreements. The Business Council of Australia has also said enterprise contracts are “no substitute” for individual agreements.
Labor’s employment spokesman, Brendan O’Connor, told the National Press Club on 17 June the fact the government had not responded to the workplace relations report showed “how incompetent and lazy the government is”.
But Labor has not responded to the Productivity Commission report either.
“We don’t feel obliged to be the first to respond to a government-commissioned report,” O’Connor said. “We’re happy to consider these matters, including what is a flexible way to negotiate with small businesses.”
O’Connor told Guardian Australia: “In the absence of any Abbott-Turnbull government response to the Productivity Commission report we must conclude it supports all of the recommendations, including the outrageous proposal to slash penalty rates.”
Labor has announced it would introduce a licensing scheme for labour hire companies and plans to crack down on abuse of working visas and underpayment of workers. It will release a further policy on exploitation of workers by franchises this week.

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