FW Act ‘irrefutably’ good for workers and the economy: ACTU

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FW Act ‘irrefutably’ good for workers and the economy: ACTU

The Fair Work Act has been ‘irrefutably good’ for workers and good for the economy, ACTU president Ged Kearney has told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia conference in Brisbane.

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The Fair Work Act 2009 has been ‘irrefutably good’ for workers and good for the economy, ACTU president Ged Kearney has told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) conference in Brisbane.

‘It is our view that any further changes to workplace laws should improve job security, rights and protections for the millions of people in insecure work, not wind back the clock,’ Kearney said.

She told the conference that for months employer groups have tried to ‘hitch their industrial relations agenda to the wagon of productivity’.

Their argument was that the productivity problem would be solved by delivering to employers the kind of unchecked power to hire and fire, and set pay and conditions how they want them, that existed under WorkChoices.

‘Workers aren’t stupid’
 
‘But Australian workers aren’t stupid,’ she said.
 
‘When they hear employers talking of productivity, they know that it usually means even greater profits for their bosses, but little reward for their own efforts.’

‘They know that terms like “flexibility” are really code for unlimited power to employers to reduce their own pay and conditions.’

‘Yes, Australia’s recent productivity performance has been less than desired. But much of the blame for this lies with business.’

Kearney said businesses had been steadily increasing their profit share to record levels, and while the profits were rolling-in, employers couldn’t care less about investing in new capital, skills, training and other proven means of lifting productivity.

Blame the unions
 
‘But as soon as the going gets tough ― they blame unions and go running to government for help,’ she said.

‘The employer campaign for a return to WorkChoices style laws has now reached fever pitch with the review of the Fair Work Act that is now underway.’

‘Too much importance has been placed on this review, both by the media and by employers. But it will be valuable because it will expose, once and for all, the inaccurate and uninformed statements that are made every day by business leaders in this country that bear no relation to reality.’

Kearney said a convincing case has not been made for the alternative.

‘Employers have relied on anecdotal evidence and an outdated ideological position to make the case for change,’ she said.

Outlandish statements
 
‘The ACTU has produced a number of papers that comprehensively demolish the outlandish and inaccurate statements that have been made by employers.’

‘The facts show that a record number of collective agreements are being made, industrial disputes are down, the economy is growing at a steady pace, unemployment and inflation are low, and wage growth is solid and sustainable.’

‘Profits are close to all-time record highs, while wages’ share of national income is at a 40-year low, so business has nothing to complain about.’

Kearney said she was not claiming that the Fair Work Act is perfect.

‘In our submission to the review, the ACTU has proposed reforms within the framework of the existing legislation to improve the rights to collective bargaining and the safety net for insecure workers,’ she said.

‘But note I say “within the framework of the existing legislation”. There is no public appetite for major changes to workplace laws in favour of employers.’

Reliable work
 
Kearney said this week, the ACTU released the results of a national survey of more than 2000 people that found 57% believe that any new workplace laws should aim to give employees more reliable work.

Just 14% said new laws were needed to give businesses greater flexibility in how they employ people. Even among Liberal voters, twice as many were in favour of laws to help workers as supported laws that suited employers (49% to 24%).

‘If any changes are needed to the Fair Work Act, they should start with strengthening the bargaining system, with an activist role for Fair Work Australia where employers only pay lip service to the notion of collective bargaining and never have any intention of reaching agreement,’ she said.
 
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