Political battle ahead over abolition of AWAs

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Political battle ahead over abolition of AWAs

The fate of Labor’s first reform of the WorkChoices legislation is uncertain as the Opposition splits on whether to allow the abolition of AWAs.

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The fate of Labor’s first reform of the WorkChoices legislation is uncertain as the Opposition splits on whether to allow the abolition of AWAs. 

Labor plans to introduce legislation into Parliament next week to end AWAs and establish interim transitional agreements until all AWAs run out, but the Opposition is considering blocking the legislation in the Senate. 

Two kinds of AWAs

Shadow IR spokeswoman Julie Bishop argues that there are two kinds of AWAs: those introduced in 1996 with a no disadvantage clause; and those brought in with WorkChoices which initially abandoned the no disadvantage clause but then became subject to the fairness test. 

Bishop is prepared to allow the WorkChoices AWAs to be abolished, but is insisting on keeping the earlier form of AWAs. 

Labor will not accept this, and if the Opposition persists Labor will not be able to get its IR legislation up until the Opposition loses control of the Senate in July. 

Bishop yesterday gave a presentation to the Coalition joint party room on workplace reform in which she addressed the MPs on ‘the benefits that have flowed over the past decade in terms of economic and social prosperity due to higher productivity, higher wages, higher labour force participation and lower unemployment’. 

During the meeting the Coalition reaffirmed that the package of amendments known as WorkChoices, introduced in 2005, is no longer Coalition policy.

Direct negotiation 

However it also reaffirmed its support for the right of employees to ‘directly negotiate their employment contract with their employer, subject to a no-disadvantage test’. 

Notably this ‘employment contract’ was not referred to as an ‘AWA’ when Bishop reported on the outcome of the party room discussions. 

The Coalition also stated that people should have the right to union representation in their employment negotiations, but union intervention should be not be forced on individuals against their wishes. 

Bishop said she reported to the party room the concerns of economists and labour market analysts about the ‘negative impacts of removing flexibility from the workplace and the return of compulsory collective bargaining’.

‘These concerns relate to the threat of excessive union demands not based on productivity gains, which can lead to a wage breakout that feeds higher inflation and the type of economic damage that resulted in recessions of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s,’ he statement said. 

Coalition differences 

Media reports have said there was vigorous discussion on the IR issue in the party room, with one Senator saying the ‘WorkChoices brand stinks’ and that AWAs were linked with WorkChoices in the public’s mind. 

Former workplace minister Kevin Andrews, who developed WorkChoices, defended AWAs, but conceded it had been a mistake to scrap the no-disadvantage test in the original WorkChoices laws. He urged the parties not to abandon the reforms. 

Bishop said she will be taking a detailed proposal to the Shadow Ministry after she has seen Labor’s transition bill. 

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