Rudd ‘threat’ of election over AWAs

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Rudd ‘threat’ of election over AWAs

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has threatened the Opposition members with a double dissolution election over WorkChoices, if they continue to block the Government’s attempts to abolish AWAs.

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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has threatened the Opposition members with a double dissolution election over WorkChoices, if they continue to block the Government’s attempts to abolish AWAs.

Asked in Canberra whether he had thought of calling an early election over the issue, Rudd said the Liberal party ’are playing with fire’.

‘They should just reflect on this,’ he said. ‘What did the Australian people say? The Australian people said “get rid of WorkChoices, get rid of AWAs”.'

‘How loud do you have to be for the Liberals to sit up and take notice? And I think the Liberal party should reflect on their own future when it comes to this extraordinary act of contempt.’

A double dissolution election, which includes a full Senate election, can be called after a Bill has been rejected twice by the Upper House following a three-month break between the two votes.

Meanwhile, Labor ministers have asserted that the claim by former Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey on the 'Four Corners' program last night that ‘many’ of his fellow Cabinet ministers were not aware when he took over the job that employees could be worse off under WorkChoices strikes at his credibility, and that of the previous government.

Hockey said last night: ‘[W]hen I took over the job [in January 2007] I don’t think ... many ministers in Cabinet were aware that you could be worse off under WorkChoices ... and that you could actually have conditions taken away without compensation, and once I started to raise those issues with colleagues and they became more informed of the impact of Work Choices we introduced the fairness test.’

Labor has attacked this statement as not resonating with the history of the WorkChoices legislation.

Cabinet ‘uneasy’

When WorkChoices was under attack last year and seemed likely to cause damage at the forthcoming election, it was ‘leaked’ to the media that some Cabinet Ministers were originally uneasy about the WorkChoices legislation, and it had been before Cabinet a number of times before being approved.

However, attempts to soften it were rejected by Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello. The final legislation was much tougher than expected, with the cut-off point for unfair dismissal claims set at 100 employees, rather than the 15 or 20 expected.

After the legislation was passed, Howard was continually asked both in Parliament and at press conferences whether workers could be worse off under WorkChoices. Howard refused to answer the question directly, constantly repeating that the best thing that could be done for the unemployed was to get them a job.

‘Billy’ case

It was at Howard’s personal insistence that the infamous case of ‘Billy’ was included in an early WorkChoices document, published in October 2005, which explained how AWAs worked.

‘The AWA Billy is offered provides him with the relevant minimum award classification wage and explicitly removes award conditions for public holidays, rest breaks, bonuses, annual leave loadings, allowances, penalty rates and shift overtime loading. Because Billy wants to get a foothold in the job, he agrees to the AWA,’ and Howard argued that Billy was ‘better off’ because he had a job.

Kevin Andrews was the Workplace Relations Minister at the time of the introduction of WorkChoices in March 2006 and he carried the burden of explaining the legislation and attempting to fob off the torrent of complaints and examples of workers being ‘ripped off’ by AWAs that followed.

By the end of 2006, it was generally recognised that Andrews had failed to ‘sell’ WorkChoices, and in January 2007 he was replaced by Joe Hockey.

‘Big bear of a man’

Howard described Hockey as ‘avuncular’ and said: ‘If he reassures and is friendly and embracing and is a big bear of a man, well what’s wrong with that?’

By this time, the ACTU attack on WorkChoices was well under way and having an effect. The newspapers and TV news were full of stories of workers, particularly young workers, having wages and conditions cut back.

Hockey’s statement (at the time he took over) that ‘many Cabinet Ministers’ were not aware workers could be worse off has been attacked as untrue by the ACTU and Julia Gillard.

‘Rewrite history’

ACTU President Sharan Burrow described his claim as the Liberals trying to rewrite history.

She quoted an exchange between Howard and ABC's '7.30 Report' interviewer Kerry O’Brien in November 2005 to establish that the fact that workers could be worse off was well known even then:

KERRY O’BRIEN: Isn’t it true, Mr Howard, that Billy, or anybody coming from one job to another, could be confronted with an individual contract that loses all of these conditions, with no particular guarantee of substantial remuneration in return for it, whether they have an agent or not, that the agent isn’t necessarily going to change the mind of an employer who’s determined to enforce it and that they have the choice of either accepting the contract or not getting the job?

JOHN HOWARD: Yes, but you’re talking about somebody who is coming from one job to another. Right now, and under any industrial relations system, people consider changing jobs. They make an assessment according to what they’re offered and if they’re offered something which is better, then they’ll take it. If they’re not offered something that is better, they may not take it.

‘Pretending’ says Gillard

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard told Question Time that Hockey was pretending that the Howard Government Cabinet Ministers were the only people in Australia unaware WorkChoices was hurting working people.

The Labor legislation abolishing AWAs has been referred to a Senate Committee until the end of April 2008.


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