Employers mostly welcome Labor's IR plan details

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Employers mostly welcome Labor's IR plan details

Business and employer organisations have generally welcomed - with reservations - yesterday's announcement of further details of Labor's IR policy, but some hard line bodies are still implacably opposed to them.

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Business and employer organisations have generally welcomed - with reservations - yesterday's announcement of further details of Labor's IR policy, but some hard line bodies are still implacably opposed to them.

Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, and IR spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, yesterday announced that employees earning more than $100,000 will be totally exempt from award conditions, current AWAs will run their course, and there will be room for individual flexibility within collective agreements under Labor's proposed Federal IR system.

ACCI says it will damage economy

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) remains the most belligerent opponent of Labor's plans, saying they will 'severely damage the Australian economy'.

ACCI Chief Executive, Peter Hendy, former Chief of Staff to Liberal Party Workplace Relations Minister, Peter Reith, said it is an inadequate response to the serious issues raised by businesses across the economy, including small and medium employers.

He said a policy that would already add red tape 'would now be further complicated with more complexity over transition and implementation'.

'The bottom line for business is not whether Labor has made a genuine attempt to fix problems with its policy, but whether they have in fact been fixed,' Hendy said. 'They have not.'

Hendy complained that under Labor's policy:

  • the AWA system is still being abolished
  • small and medium businesses will no longer be exempt from unfair dismissal laws
  • employers will be forced to collectively bargain for higher wages and conditions
  • compulsory conciliation and arbitration of awards will be reactivated
  • new regulation will be put in awards
  • new regulation will be put in legislation and then applied to every employment category
  • unions will still have an extended right to strike
  • all members of the AIRC will be sacked
  • the Fair Pay Commission will be abolished
  • Labor will appoint whoever it wishes to a new centralised super regulator (the legal status of which remains in doubt) and the building industry watchdog will be gone

'Allays business concerns', says AiG

However, the Australian Industry Group (AiG), which has refused to join other employer organisations in running TV and newspaper ads attacking Labor's IR plans, is more sanguine about yesterday's announcement.

AiG Chief Executive, Heather Ridout, said that by pledging to retain key elements of the current workplace relations framework, the Federal Opposition has addressed some major risks and uncertainties inherent in their original Forward with Fairness policy.

'This will go some way to allaying business concerns,' she said. 'As well, while business remains disappointed with the decision to abolish AWAs, the transitional arrangements appear workable and will provide more certainty for affected employers and employees than earlier proposals.'

Ridout said that keeping such arrangements as existing right of entry, mandatory secret ballots, and bans on pattern bargaining, went towards maintaining the 'integrity and rigour' of the workplace relations system.

However, AiG still had important questions about:

  • how compulsory collective bargaining is triggered
  • what good faith bargaining will look like
  • what can be bargained for, and
  • whether there will be compulsory arbitration

A problem for restaurant industry

Restaurant and Catering Australia was critical of the lack of concessions to small business in the ALP's policy, saying small businesses, like restaurants, do not have the management infrastructure to manage complex and detailed industrial agreement processes.

MBA backs AWAs but welcomes details

Master Builders Australia said it would continue to support the retention of AWAs, while welcoming the additional detail Labor had provided as it 'provides business with a general understanding of where Labor's IR policy is heading'.

'Why junk system that's working?', says Business Chamber

NSW Business Chamber CEO, Kevin MacDonald, said the critical question to be answered is the economic question, 'and that is, why junk a workplace relations policy that has helped create 337,000 new jobs?'

'Our concern has always been not who runs the country rather it is who will be running workplaces. Australia cannot afford to return to the bad old days of union domination in workplaces and industrial disputation.'

'Important first step', says BCA

The Business Council of Australia said Labor's IR policy was an important first step but much more was needed.

It expressed concern that Labor's new system would create unnecessary complexity, confusion and increased costs for all businesses, large and small.

'Framework for fairness', says HIA

The Housing Industry Association (HIA) said the statement provided 'greater clarity and assurances' in relation to their employment policies.

HIA's Managing Director, Ron Silberberg said: 'Labor's "Forward with Fairness" provides a framework for balancing the demands for flexibility and fairness in the workplace.

'The policy statement represents a considered assessment of the needs of small business as raised by HIA, including measured transitional provisions, flexibility in agreement/awards as well as a commitment to prevent any return to industrial lawlessness.'

Problems with unfair dismissal, says REIA

The Real Estate Institute of Australia expressed concern about the reintroduction of unfair dismissal claims for small business.

'The essence of the issue is productivity rather than time. Some employees work well during their probationary period, but their quality of work is not always maintained as their employment progresses,' it said.

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