Abetz says more on IR history than IR future

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Abetz says more on IR history than IR future

In an address titled ‘Industrial Relations After the Thirty Years War’, the Federal Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz told the Sydney Institute yesterday that the ‘IR Club’ and the ALP were to blame for the poor state of employment legislation in Australia, but he provided little insight into measures to correct this situation other than emphasise enterprise agreements over awards.

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In an address titled ‘Industrial Relations After the Thirty Years War’, the Federal Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz told the Sydney Institute yesterday (28/01/14) that the ‘IR Club’ and the ALP were to blame for the poor state of employment legislation in Australia, but he provided little insight into measures to correct this situation other than emphasise enterprise agreements over awards.

Abetz started his address by referring to Australia’s Thirty Years War in Industrial Relations with a note about the Industrial Relations Club:
‘… Gerard Henderson, who 30 years ago, on a late August afternoon in 1983, as he tells it, “decided to drop a bucket on the system” … His essay in Quadrant in September 1983 coined the now-famous phrase “The Industrial Relations Club” and started a debate of unprecedented vigour and duration in this area …

The thought process of the Club, as described by Henderson, discounted the importance of the individual, the enterprise, society and the economy. 
 
Can I ask rhetorically, in the Industrial Relations Club view of the world, who stands up for the individual? Who stands up for the individual enterprise? Who stands up for society’s needs? Who stands up for the unemployed? Who stands up for the economy’s needs?’
ALP and the unions

Abetz went on to argue that the Gillard Government had capitulated to the unions saying that:
‘On 18 November 2013, Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote of a secret “Kirribilli Agreement” between Julia Gillard and a number of union leaders, which effectively out-sourced workplace relations policy to the union bosses in return for their internal political support. Hartcher’s account of this deal is highly illuminating:
“In November 2011, Gillard hosted a meeting with the secretary of the ACTU, Dave Oliver, and the heads of the major unions. It was held over lunch at Kirribilli House. Its purpose was to forge a strategic alliance between Gillard and the union movement ...”’ 
Agreements should take precedence

The Minister did firmly state that the future for employers and employees should be encapsulated in enterprise agreements, arguing that:
‘If the Shorten Opposition would like an education on how Labor can act in the national interest in this space, it would be well advised to read former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s address in 1993 to the Institute of Company Directors where he said that the workplace relations framework should shift to:
“… primary emphasis on bargaining at the workplace level within a framework of minimum standards provided by arbitral tribunals. It is a model under which … awards and … (centralised) wage increases would be there only as a safety net …”
I never thought I would say this, but to this end I am on a unity ticket with Mr Keating. Can I also say, whilst a minimal number of awards is ideal, there is no magic in the 122 we currently have. The Commission shouldn’t be afraid of re-aligning or dis-amalgamating some awards where it makes good sense to do so.

The system should be one in which the concept of enterprise bargaining once again reflects the intent for which it was first introduced. It should be an opportunity to unlock value in workplaces through innovation and incentive, rather than what it has now increasingly become ...’
 
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