Employers accept new IR laws, despite pro-union swing


Employers accept new IR laws, despite pro-union swing

Employer bodies have been surprisingly accommodating over Labor’s new IR legislation, despite the fact that it swings the pendulum more towards the unions.


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Employer bodies have been surprisingly accommodating over Labor’s new IR legislation, despite the fact that it swings the pendulum more towards the unions.
Heather Ridout, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, described the Fair Work Bill as ‘by and large a workable compromise’.
‘The Government had to strike a compromise between diametrically opposed positions which intensified the risks of making the wrong decisions,’ Ridout said.
Protections for employers: AiG
‘The Government has addressed many of Ai Group’s concerns and has put in place important protections for employers. However, key issues of contention remain including the expansion of union rights of entry and the broadening of the transfer of employment provisions.’
She said these matters would be raised during the Senate Committee process and directly with the Government, Opposition and other Senators. 
Unions must be responsible
‘Unions will need to be responsible in their use of the new laws or risk causing economic damage at the worst time for Australia when pressures on business and on employment are intense,’ she said.
Peter Anderson, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), said that as currently framed, the opportunities for increased productivity through enterprise bargaining are outweighed by the heavy emphasis on new employee rights and a collective bargaining system favouring union activism.
Far-reaching implications: ACCI
He said the Bill had far-reaching implications for employers and the management of relationships and work practices in Australian workplaces.
‘Although some approaches can be welcomed, the Bill has a heavy emphasis on new employee and union rights, and new regulatory institutions to give effect to these rights and force compliance,’ Anderson said.
‘The new rights and compliance obligations will, over time, involve additional cost to employers, including non-unionised workplaces and smaller businesses.'
‘Although changes to current laws have been expected and some change is warranted, the combination of new employee and union rights and the new regulatory and compliance obligations will carry significant risks to employers, small business and jobs, especially in a period of slowing economic growth.’
Damage productivity: Master Builders
Wilhelm Harnisch, CEO of Master Builders Australia, warned that the vesting of greater rights in unions under the new proposed industrial relations laws will damage productivity for the building and construction industry and negatively impact upon the national economy.
‘Giving unions unwarranted greater power increases the potential for industrial disruption,’ he said.
‘This comes at a time when the global financial crisis will see the commercial building sector slump in 2009, and will result in greater uncertainty in a sector that is fundamental to the rebuilding of the economy.'
‘The agreement making process proposed by the Federal Government is a retrograde step for direct employer and employee engagement, which is essential to lifting productivity.'
‘We are concerned that with a 19% unionisation rate in the building and construction industry, the tail will once again wag the dog on building sites.’
Harnisch said that on the positive side, the Bill is much more simply structured than prior statutes.
‘Master Builders also commends the Deputy Prime Minister for the extensive consultation with major employer groups, including Master Builders; but is concerned that the pendulum has swung too far in favour of the unions,’ he said.
Historic turning point: ACTU
The ACTU, unsurprisingly, has warmly welcomed the legislation, saying it is an historic turning point in restoring workers’ rights.
ACTU president Sharan Burrow said the legislation should deliver:
  • strong rights for workers to collectively bargain and be represented by their union
  • unfair dismissal rights for all workers
  • a robust new safety net of awards and national standards, along with a fair and transparent process for setting minimum wages
  • an industrial umpire with the teeth to safeguard workers’ rights.
Doesn’t go far enough: Greens
Only the Greens thought the legislation did not go far enough.
They said many working Australians will feel let down by this legislation as not delivering on the promise to abolish WorkChoices and to create a genuinely fair industrial relation system.
‘There are huge gaps and problems with the Fair Work Bill,’ said IR spokeswoman Senator Rachel Siewert.
‘The unfair dismissal laws don't go far enough, too many restrictions on collective bargaining remain, continuing individual agreements and an umpire with limited powers are all cause for concern,’ she said.
‘This legislation is being compared to WorkChoices rather than what a fair and decent industrial relations system should look like. We are already seeing minimum conditions reduced from pre-Work Choices levels under the award modernisation process with the potential for these standards to be undermined even further with individual flexibility agreements.’
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