Federal election — comments from the sidelines

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Federal election — comments from the sidelines

The national union movement’s lack of involvement in the election campaign to win better workplace rights has not earned them any ‘brownie points’ with the rank and file, according to Victoria’s top union official.

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No election ‘brownie points’ for national union leaders, says Boyd; HR Nicholls Society says regulations can bring back WorkChoices.
 
No election ‘brownie points’ for national union leaders, says Boyd
 
The national union movement’s lack of involvement in the election campaign to win better workplace rights has not earned them any ‘brownie points’ with the rank and file, according to Victoria’s top union official.
 
Brian Boyd, secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC), said employer associations have not been shy in putting out publicly their wish list for IR changes — all of these demands hark back to increasing WorkChoices style restrictions on workers collective bargaining rights — including stricter right-of-entry rules for unions and more limitations on industrial action.
 
‘The national union movement is more circumspect,’ he said in his monthly column on the VTHC website.
 
Don’t rock the boat
 
‘Some national union leaders argue they don’t want to “rock the boat” or “attract unwanted publicity” during the election period. This hasn’t earned them any “brownie points” with the rank and file.’
 
Boyd said new Federal IR Minister Simon Crean told a recent ACTU Executive that he believed the Federal Government had ‘got the balance right’ on IR and that the Fair Work Act 2009 was not up for more changes.
 
He said the ACTU leadership has made a few brief statements about the need for a second term IR agenda in the lead up to the federal election.
 
The new ACTU president, Ged Kearney, said she wants ‘a second round of workplace relations law changes that would give greater protection to union delegates, scrap the Australian Building and Construction Commission, allow industrial action in pursuit of pattern bargaining and expand wage deals to include clauses on non-workplace matters such as climate change and business practices’.
 
ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence recently said:
‘The fact is we still have a system that doesn’t provide for free bargaining. It still doesn’t provide for bargaining to take place in an appropriate way.’
‘No’ vote for Abbott
 
‘Working Australians may be bemused by the topsy-turvey antics and game playing during the current federal election campaign, but we didn’t rally around the country leading up to 2007 to see anti-union reactionary Tony Abbott become Prime Minister, three years later,’ Boyd said.
 
‘When you cut through all the media hype and misinformation the issue is clear cut — it’s a “no” vote for Abbott.’
 
Boyd said the union movement’s highly successful campaign to see off John Howard (2005–07) has left an indelible impact on the electorate’s psyche.
 
‘The undermining of rights at work by Howard’s WorkChoices laws was over the top,’ he said.
 
‘His hatred of workers being able to get together at work and collectively bargain dripped from his 1000 plus pages of draconian regulations.’
 
‘It wasn’t a de-regulation of the labour market as claimed. It was over-regulation, aimed at stopping workers having the effective right to organise.’
 
‘The Gillard Fair Work Act 2009 saw only the partial return of those lost rights.’
 
 
HR Nicholls Society says regulations can bring back WorkChoices
 
The hard-line right wing industrial relations organisation, the HR Nicholls Society, has backed the ACTU’s contention that an Abbott Government could virtually bring back WorkChoices by regulation.
 
Last month, the ACTU pointed out that at least 198 regulations could be changes by a Liberal Government that would disadvantage workers and bring back elements of WorkChoices.
 
These included losing protection from unfair dismissals and the reintroduction of individual contracts — key elements of WorkChoices.
 
Significant changes
 
HR Nicholls president Adam Bisits agreed that the Liberals could make significant changes to workplace relations without changing the laws.
 
While Bisits agreed that the Fair Work Act should not be changed, he said you ‘can do a lot by varying regulations’.
 
He nominated unfair dismissal, workplace flexibility and rules around minimum hours as key areas that could be changed.
 
Bisits did not advocate major changes because ‘employers and employees just want to get on with work and not be bothered by IR policy, or by either a Howard or Gillard-style 600-page Act’.
 
A spokesman for Shadow IR Minister Eric Abetz yesterday could not say whether the Coalition would release an IR policy during the election campaign.
 
Previously, both Abetz and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott have ruled out changing the Fair Work Act but suggested regulations could be changed to improve workplace flexibility and help small business.
 
Abbott is a long-term opponent of the application of unfair dismissal laws to small business.
 
Extreme
 
ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence described the HR Nicholls Society as an ‘extreme organisation’ which ‘believed in totally deregulated labour markets without any minimum standards’.
 
He said Bisits’ comments showed the Coalition could allow WorkChoices ‘in through the back door’.
 
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