Abbott to get ‘AWAs’ via more flexibility in FWAct: Evans

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Abbott to get ‘AWAs’ via more flexibility in FWAct: Evans

IR Minister Chris Evans believes that instead of bringing back individual contracts, a Tony Abbott government would expand the current flexibility measures in the Fair Work Act 2009 to benefit employers.

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IR Minister Chris Evans believes that instead of bringing back individual contracts, a Tony Abbott government would expand the current flexibility measures in the Fair Work Act 2009 to benefit employers.

Abbott said last week he would not bring back individual workplace agreements and that the Coalition no longer believes in them. This comment brought strong protests from backbenchers and former IR Minister Peter Reith.

Evans said in a TV interview that he did not believe Abbott, saying: ‘He has made it clear himself that you wouldn’t believe him unless he wrote it down.’

‘I think they are going down the path of using the individual flexibility measures inside the current Act,’ he said.

‘Another way to skin the cat’
 
‘I think they are looking to skin the cat another way. But they are still very much committed to individual contracts and giving employers the option to just say to people if you want the job you’ve got to meet these conditions.’

Evans also made it clear that while the government was committed to a review of the Fair Work Act, it would be a ‘Labor’ review.

‘We are going to have an evidence-based approach to the review we are going to conduct,’ he said.

‘We will look at any concerns about how the Act is operating. But we will do that in the context that it’s a Labor Act, it’s a Labor approach to industrial relations that protects workers’ rights.’

‘So, within that context we are happy to look at any of the technical issues that may be causing difficulties in the way the Act operates.’

Not to blame for low productivity
 
Evans also rejected claims that the Fair Work Act is to be blamed for low productivity.

‘We’ve had a long term fall in productivity,’ he said.
 
‘It was low under WorkChoices and it’s been low for a number of years.’

‘What we’ve got to do is address low productivity and we say we are because what we have done is invest heavily in education and skills.’

‘The best thing to improve productivity in the economy is to have more highly skilled and more highly educated people and that’s what the education revolution and investment in skills is doing.’

‘But if there are barriers to productivity we would encourage employers to use the enterprise bargaining system to try and drive improvements in productivity and my sense of it is that there hasn’t been much of that going on.’

Not much innovation
 
‘There hasn’t been much innovation, there hasn’t been much that’s new in terms of trying to get better results for the enterprise through negotiations with their employees.’

Evans said the Fair Work Act had been successful in that Australia has relatively low industrial disputation, constrained wage outcomes, and record numbers of agreements.

‘This is the first time we have had a national industrial relations system — 96% of private sector employees all under the one system, creating huge efficiencies for business.’ 

‘So there is a lot that says the Act is working and what we’ve got to do is then address any issues that are genuine and evidence-based if there are suggestions that there are elements not working.’

ACTU comment
 
In a separate TV interview, ACTU president Ged Kearny welcomed the fact that Abbott had ruled out statutory individual contracts.

‘He will remember only too well that that was one of the major issues that removed the Coalition Government in 2007, working Australians and indeed the entire electorate said that they did not like a WorkChoices style of IR,’ she said.

‘But it is worrying to hear him say that he is looking for more flexibility in the Fair Work Act. That can mean only to me further deregulation and perhaps removing a number of the surveyed safeguards there for people.’
‘WorkChoices by stealth, coming through the backdoor. We’ll be watching that very closely.’
 
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