Abbott hints at more ‘flexible’ IR laws

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Abbott hints at more ‘flexible’ IR laws

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott hinted to employers that their desire for more flexibility in the Fair Work Act will be accommodated if the Coalition wins the election on 14 September.

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Opposition Leader Tony Abbott hinted to employers that their desire for more flexibility in the Fair Work Act will be accommodated if the Coalition wins the election on 14 September.

In his address to the National Press Club yesterday, Abbott said his IR policies will address ‘the flexibility, militancy and productivity problems arising from the Fair Work Act’.

Among other things, employers want more certainty in any individual flexibility arrangements they make with employees, instead of the current situation where the workers can easily withdraw from the arrangement.

Penalty rates

They also want more restrictions on what matters can be covered by enterprise agreements and are pushing vigorously for a massive cutback to penalty rates.

Labor has rejected changes to penalty rates, but Abbott has so far refused to be drawn on the issue.
 
However, no doubt recalling the disastrous effect WorkChoices had on the Coalition in 2007, Abbott warned that any changes to the Act would also have to benefit workers.

‘I have never believed that Australian workers are overpaid and will never begrudge the decent working people of our country a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,’ he said.

‘That’s why our workplace policy will ensure that changes have to benefit a business’s workers as well as its owners, managers and customers — because you can’t have a successful business without motivated workers.’

Militant unions

Abbott gave little away in his first speech since the election date was declared, concentrating on militant unions in the small section of his speech on workplace relations.

Abbott declared that his ‘personal history’ showed he had never been anti-union.

‘I support unions that are honestly managed and genuinely focussed on a fair deal for their members,’ he said.

‘That’s why a big part of the Coalition’s workplace policy will be tackling the rorts we’ve seen in the Health Services Union and the Australian Workers Union.’

‘These are the sorts of measures that a less-compromised Labor government could introduce and that decent Labor people would support.’

Productivity

Meanwhile, a major employers’ organisation has warned that business expects both sides to address changes to the Act to make Australia more productive and competitive.

Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s chief executive, Peter Anderson, said there is no doubt that workplace productivity and efficiency will need to be one of the critical goals of the next Australian government.

‘Lifting our workforce productivity is a key ingredient to our stronger economic vision,’ he said.

‘That means changes to the Fair Work system but it also means development of increased labour force participation so groups not currently in the labour force can enter the labour force, it means moving some people from welfare to work, it also means lifting our skills capacity and capability.’

Reality

‘We need an industrial relations system that supports not just unionised businesses and union recognition, but we need an industrial relations system that actually reflects the reality of the economy.’

Anderson said most workplaces do not have union members, do not undertake collective bargaining, and are small and medium business people who deal directly with their staff.

‘The industrial relations system needs to reflect those principles and the specific changes need to be directed at that,’ he said.

‘If they are, we will still have a fair industrial relations system, but it will be one that works for the economy.

‘At the moment when some businesses have to close, even though their customers and the business owners want them open, because of the costs imposed by the fair work laws, that says loud and clear that the system is out of kilter and needs changing.’

‘If either major party goes to the election without policies to change the Fair Work laws of Australia they will be letting down the economic interest of this country.’
 
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