Labor dodges issue on workers 'walking away' from AWAs

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Labor dodges issue on workers 'walking away' from AWAs

Labor's IR spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, has again ducked the question of how workers who don't like the AWAs they are currently on will be able to walk away from them under an ALP Government.

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Labor's IR spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, has again ducked the question of how workers who don't like the AWAs they are currently on will be able to walk away from them under an ALP Government.

In an interview with the ABC's 7.30 Report presenter Kerry O'Brien, Gillard admitted there were 'complexities' on this matter and she was holding further consultations.

Legal position

'We need an arrangement that provides certainty,' she said. 'We need an arrangement that provides fairness. We need, of course, to look at the legal position. So I can't be drawn or won't be drawn on where we might get to through that process.'

In response to O'Brien's charge that Labor has 'committed to a policy without knowing how you're going to deliver it', Gillard said: 'We've committed to an end result, to what Labor wants to be a fair, balanced, flexible industrial relations system for this country.'

'We know currently we've got Howard's deeply unfair laws. We've got to chart the journey in between. We're doing that task now and it will be out there, Kerry, well before the next election.

'There won't be an Australian voter who walks into a polling place unable to know what Labor's industrial relations policy would mean for them.'

Protection without abolishing AWAs

O'Brien put it to Gillard that workers could be protected without abolishing AWAs.

'What I don't understand is why it's necessary to ultimately do away with all AWAs when, as an alternative, you could legislate for greater protection in future individual contracts, including a no disadvantage clause,' he said. 'In other words, no worker could be forced to surrender basic conditions, like penalty rates and so on, unless they were properly compensated for them.'

'Because we think we can provide flexibility in the system without Australian Workplace Agreements,' Gillard replied. 'Of course if we look at the workforce now, around 5% of workers are on AWAs, probably, we don't know the full numbers.

'Some 30% are on common law contracts. They're individual agreements but they're individual agreements that incorporate the award safety net. They would be a feature of Labor's system going forward, providing, with a simplified modern award system, plenty of flexibility. We think that's the better way forward.'

Not following union demand, says Gillard

Gillard rejected the charge that Labor was committed to abolishing AWAs because that was what the unions demanded.

O'Brien put to her the proposition 'that what really is behind this is, is unions' fear for their own survival that, union membership is dwindling, unions fear their very survival. They see AWAs as threatening their relevance if more and more workers come to embrace AWAs over time.'

'I'd have to disagree with your analysis Kerry,' Gillard said 'We didn't pick up the ACTU policy, the congress policy document, and put a Labor cover on it. We didn't pick up a policy from an employer organisation either.

'We came up with our own policy and it's not a policy about trade union rights, it's a policy about the rights of working families to a fair, flexible and balanced system.

'To give you just one example of that, it's not trade union policy to have mandatory secret ballots before strikes. It's not trade union policy to have no strike pay … '

Unions 'hate them'

O'Brien: 'Yeah. But I'm talking specifically about AWAs, the unions hate them.'

Gillard: 'Yes, they understand that these have been an instrument that have hurt working people and that's demonstrably true on what we know about AWAs.'

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