Howard sets dogs running on punitive IR changes


Howard sets dogs running on punitive IR changes

The Howard Government is starting to signal that its proposed industrial relations changes will hit heavily at workers’ wages and conditions and significantly favour employers.


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The Howard Government is starting to signal that its proposed industrial relations changes will hit heavily at workers’ wages and conditions and significantly favour employers.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, drew back at the weekend from his repeated protestations that ‘no worker would be worse off’ under his IR reforms, and Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has refused for months to say that workers would not be adversely affected by them.

Aim is flexibility


Asked at the weekend if he stood by his assurance that no worker would be worse off, Howard said: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever said I can guarantee people’s wage levels. What I can guarantee is that this package will not cut wages. 

‘The aim is to have a lot more flexibility to make it a lot easier for people to go into workplace agreements. We’re working on the details of the package, but it is not a wage-cutting exercise.’

Shift in position

This is a shift from his position last month when he said: ‘We are not going to cut real wages. If I say that, it is the same as saying they are not going to be worse off.’ 


Before the 1996 election Howard pledged that no worker would be worse off as a result of IR changes, and that no award conditions would be removed. 


AWAs - favoured vehicle

In a series of speeches, Andrews has reiterated the Government’s intention to have AWAs come into operation as soon as they are signed, and signalled that they will not have to be approved by the Industrial Relations Commission on a ‘no disadvantage’ to the award test. Instead they will be rubber stamped by the Office of Employment Advocate. 

The Government has also said that in the future workers doing comparable jobs will not have to be offered the same AWAs.


Low Wage Commission


As well, the Government is planning to set up a Low Wage Commission (possibly to be called the ‘Fair Wage Commission’) based on the UK example to set the minimum wage into the future. 


Ministers' meeting delayed

The Government is currently putting the finishing touches to its IR legislative package, and a sign that it is at a sensitive stage is the fact that Andrews has delayed yet again meeting with State and Territory IR Ministers to explain the Government’s intentions. 

Such meetings are supposed to be six-monthly, but there has not been a meeting in more than a year. 


Allowable award matters - ALP reaction

One of the most controversial of the Government’s planned IR changes will be its decision on the further cutting of allowable award matters.

In a paper delivered to the Industrial Relations Society of NSW’s annual convention in the Blue Mountains at the weekend, the Opposition’s Shadow Minister on Industrial Relations, Stephen Smith, said that over the past few weeks as the Prime Minister, Treasurer Peter Costello and Minister Andrews have all expressed their desire to change the minimum wage and ‘simplify’ awards.   


‘This was renewed in a report in the Brisbane Courier Mail on 12 May where Minister Andrews flagged the end of weekend penalty rates as part of planned industrial relations changes,’ Smith said.


‘In the Government’s eyes, ‘simplifying’ Awards and reducing the number of allowable matters is code for stripping the Awards of the conditions Australian employees and their families have come to depend upon.  


‘What Prime Minister Howard, Treasurer Costello, and Minister Andrews don’t mention is that the allowable matters underpin the basis of every Australian employee’s working conditions.’ 

Smith forecast that some of the conditions at risk include:

  • public holidays
  • annual leave and leave loadings
  • incentive-based payments, piece rates and bonuses
  • ordinary time hours of work and the times within which they are performed, rest breaks, notice periods and variations to working hours
  • classifications of employees and skill-based career paths
  • parental leave, including maternity and adoption leave
  • long service leave
  • loadings for working overtime or for casual or shift work
  • employer superannuation contributions
  • penalty rates.

If cu from the list of allowable matters, any or all of these clauses relating to wages and conditions would then have to be negotiated through enterprise bargaining or AWAs.

Legislative program


Many commentators were speculating that the Government would try to introduce at least some of the legislation in the current sitting of Parliament in the hope that Labor would vote against it.

It now seems that the package, which seems likely to be some of the most far-reaching IR legislation ever proposed (and which certainly will not put trade unions in a better position) will be introduced in massive pieces of legislation in August, after the Government gets control of the Senate.


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