'Individual freedom': Abbott's touchstone for workplace relations

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'Individual freedom': Abbott's touchstone for workplace relations

The Coalition is determined to see the continuation of greater individual freedom and bargaining in the workplace, Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, Tony Abbott, told a meeting of industrial relations specialists this morning.

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The Coalition is determined to see the continuation of greater individual freedom and bargaining in the workplace, Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, Tony Abbott, told a meeting of industrial relations specialists this morning.

Speaking at a seminar in Sydney held by IR lawyers and consultants, Fisher Cartwright Berriman, Abbott discussed the Liberal government’s policy in relation to industrial relations issues in the lead up to this year’s Federal election, saying that their whole approach to workplace relations is based on freedom and the increased ability for workers and managers to make their own agreements in the workplace.

The existence of AWAs ‘has had a significant impact on other agreements’, Abbott said. The Workplace Relations Act 1996 signals a significant break from the past and makes it possible to create workplace arrangements where the unions aren’t partners, he said.

There is a great need for managers and employers to talk to employees rather than a third party, he said. ‘I have no fundamental problems with unions but I don’t see why they should have the sort of privileges they’ve had under the current industrial system’.

Changes proposed if elected to a new term of office  

The Liberal Government has introduced three Bills, two currently before the Senate, and one yet to be debated, which propose a number of amendments:

  • The Registered Organisations Bill proposes to outlaw compulsory union levies (bargaining fees). The Bill has been debated in the House of Representatives and will be put before the Senate committee in September.

Referring to the Bill, Abbott said he didn’t believe that non-union members should pay compulsory union fees, seeing these levies as a new form of industrial and union conscription.

  • The Terminations Bill, currently before the Senate and to be put to vote in the first week of parliamentary sitting in August, provides the ability to impose unfair dismissal penalties.
  • The Transmission of Business Bill, which has been introduced into the House of Representatives but not yet debated, will ‘empower the AIRC to exempt or bind a new owner to any previous certified agreements applying to a business, or part of a business, or to vary the conditions of that agreement so they would not necessarily be bound to previous wages and conditions’.

Also a priority on the Liberal agenda is to further address the issue of lawlessness in the construction industry. ‘Workers, contractors and managers should be able to go about their daily work without fear’, Abbott said.

In response to a question about his views on competitive unionism, Abbott responded that he sees there is still a degree of unhappiness amongst workers over union amalgamations that took place in the early 90s. I would like to see individual unions break out of the super unions, he said. Competition in business is healthy, he said, and competition between unions is also a good thing.

Ultimately, Abbott said, we ‘should move to a more harmonised national system’ where it is possible for everyone to be under the same industrial system.

 

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