Abbott wrong on flexibility agreements, says Reith

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Abbott wrong on flexibility agreements, says Reith

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is ‘mistaken’ to think that toughened up individual flexibility agreements under the Fair Work Act could be an alternative to Australian Workplace Agreements, former IR Minister Peter Reith believes.

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Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is ‘mistaken’ to think that toughened up individual flexibility agreements (IFAs) under the Fair Work Act 2009 could be an alternative to Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), former IR Minister Peter Reith believes.

Reith told the Victorian IR Society that Abbott was wrong to ‘unilaterally wipe out policy that has been part of Coalition thinking for nearly 30 years, when he said the Liberal Party no longer believed in individual workplace agreements.

Abbott said any changes to the IR system would be done through amendments to the Fair Work Act.

However, Reith said AWAs are a good idea because they give people choice.

Mistake
 
‘I do not know what Abbott will do next,’ he said.
 
‘I think it is a mistake to think that IFAs could provide an alternative to AWAs.’

‘If you redefine the operation of an IFA to make it like an AWA (however it is named), the Senate will block it. If it walks like an AWA and quacks like an AWA then it is an AWA.’

Reith said that one of the problems about the IFA is that the legislation gives the unions plenty of opportunities to stymie their operation.

‘They are individual but the union agreements can limit their scope,’ he said.

‘They are not just a poor cousin of the AWA, IFAs are really the individual agreement you have when you are totally opposed to the concept.’
 
FWA ‘not root of all evil’
 
‘I do not say that the FWA is the root of all evil. The current Government is not the first to turn back the clock on labour reform. Nor are employers free of responsibility for what happens in their business.’

‘But there is no doubt that the union movement’s control over the ALP distorts the policy agenda.’

Reith said that by the end of 1996, the Coalition had secured legislation through the Senate to allow for not only simpler awards and union collective agreements, but crucially, non-union collective agreements and individual contracts (AWAs).

‘The framework legislation gave people choice so employers and employees, at the workplace, had a menu of agreements and they could decide which would suit them best,’ he said.

‘Around 1,400,000 AWAs were filed during the Howard years and the non-union collective agreements were widely used.

Options
 
‘Even where these options were not used their mere availability changed behaviour generally in the labour market.’

‘The reforms soon brought huge productivity improvements in key sectors like stevedoring, meat works and many others.’

‘The bottom line is that Australia’s problems with the FWA will grow, business will continue to complain, our productivity will remain stagnant and living standards will be lower than they could otherwise be.’

‘And the politicians will do little to address the issues and give themselves a massive pay increase at the end of the year. This will only dismay the public at large but leave too many issues unaddressed.’

 
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