Beazley, Beattie go soft on Howard’s IR changes

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Beazley, Beattie go soft on Howard’s IR changes

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has shied away from promising to abolish Australian Workplace Agreements if Labor wins power federally, and Qld Premier Peter Beattie has reportedly come out in support of exemption from unfair dismissal laws for small business.

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Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has shied away from promising to abolish Australian Workplace Agreements if Labor wins power federally, and Qld Premier Peter Beattie has reportedly come out in support of exemption from unfair dismissal laws for small business.

In moves hailed by the Howard Government, the two Labor leaders have damaged the current ACTU campaign to force the government to soften its proposed industrial relations reforms.

In an interview with the Unions NSW website Workers Online, Beazley was asked what the Opposition's policy was on AWAs. While saying he disliked them, he stopped well short of saying he would abolish them.

‘Well, look, I dislike AWAs but there’s always been individual contracts out there in the common law system and huge numbers of Australian workers have traditionally been signed up to that,’ Beazley said.

‘But what the problem here is, is the combination of AWAs, removal of at least more than a dozen allowable matters, the gutting of the Industrial Relations Commission and the removal of the capacity of unions to enter workplaces.

‘You combine all those four things together and the agenda becomes clear. They all work in an intersected way to suppress wages and AWAs are at the heart of that and I don’t like them at all.’

Andrews seizes on Beazley comments...

A press release from Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews claims Beazley again refused to promise to end AWAs when he addressed the Victorian Trades Hall Council last week, saying merely he would not ‘permit an individual contract to undermine any conditions’.

Andrews pointed out that more than 700,000 AWAs have been entered into since 1997, and in Beazley’s own electorate of Brand, 10,000 workers are currently employed on AWAs.

...and Beattie comments

In the same press release, Andrews quotes from a transcript of remarks Premier Beattie made on Brisbane radio station 4BC last week.

On the issue of relief for small business from unfair dismissal laws Beattie is quoted as saying: ‘If they’d left it at 20 or 25, then I could have understood their argument…’

Beattie then said that under the old Queensland system ‘it was 15 or less, so small business was always exempt, which is what I’ve always supported’.

Andrews pointed out that there was an exemption from unfair dismissal laws which previously existed for employers with 15 or less employees under the Queensland industrial relations system, but it was abolished by Beattie’s government in 1999.

A spokesman for Beattie told WorkplaceInfo the Premier had emphasised during the radio interview that he was speaking from memory and was not ‘across the minute detail’ of state exemptions from unfair dismissal laws.

The spokesman denied that Beattie was at odds with other Labor and union statements on the issue.

IR to dominate next election

In his Workers Online interview Beazley said industrial relations would be an issue at the next election.

‘We will be running on some basic principles of a fair minimum wage setting system, a proper umpire, the rights for people to collectively bargain and to have a collective agreement and not an individual contract,’ he said.

He said the current ACTU campaign was a big help to Labor.

‘The fact that the unions are out there alerting the public to what’s happening to them is absolutely grist to the mill for us,’ he said.

He pointed out that in the past unions continually won wage rises for non-members through their improvements of awards.

‘An awful lot of people surf on the back of the union movement who don’t actually pay their dues,’ he said. ‘Now, with Howard’s legislation, that’s just not going to be possible.’

Beazley forecast that the government’s control of the Senate would be a short-term phenomenon.

‘I think there will be an awful lot of people who will think twice about voting Liberal in the Senate next time,’ he said. ‘So I don’t expect this is to be a situation to last very long.’

Related

Federal IR changes 2005
 

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