IR taskforce an 'admission of failure' says ALP, unions

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IR taskforce an 'admission of failure' says ALP, unions

The Federal Government's problems with the WorkChoices laws is not a matter of who is selling the industrial relations changes, but the policies themselves, according to the ALP and the unions.

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The Federal Government's problems with the WorkChoices laws is not a matter of who is selling the industrial relations changes, but the policies themselves, according to the ALP and the unions.

In a tacit admission that the current Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, has failed to convince a sceptical public that WorkChoices is good for them, Prime Minister John Howard yesterday appointed the Minister for Human Services, Joe Hockey, as Assistant Minister to Andrews.

Howard also appointed a six-strong IR taskforce headed by Phil Barresi, Chairman of the Government's backbench committee. He justified the changes by saying Labor and the unions had been running a campaign of 'fear and misinformation'. However Shadow IR spokesman Stephen Smith said the WorkChoices issue is not a problem of who the Minister is or how many Ministers there are.

A problem of policy

'This a problem of policy: a massive attack by the Howard Government on the wages and conditions and living standards of working Australians,' he said.

'The Government is so arrogant and out of touch it thinks it's got a problem of communication, information and spin. It's got a massive policy problem.

'No amount of information, no amount of spin will save an attack upon wages, an attack upon penalty rates, an attack upon conditions and entitlements.'

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said the extra hands would not help.

Product 'stinks'

'The problem with the Government's effort to try and sell these laws by putting in assisting ministers and new backbench committees is that the product that they're trying to sell stinks,' he said. 'I mean you can't sell bad laws. Giving him Hockey to help out is not going to make any difference because the laws are unfair and people in Australia know that.'

Labor's IR Taskforce Chair Brendan O'Connor said if the Howard Government really believes its extreme WorkChoices legislation is fair and decent, then why is the Government setting up its own IR Taskforce?

Major problems

He said the establishment of the taskforce 'either confirms there are major problems with these extreme industrial relations laws or the Government is pretending to listen. I think it's both'.

The NSW Minister for Industrial Relations, John Della Bosca, said the appointment of a new Minister and a taskforce by the Prime Minister was an admission that the unfair WorkChoices laws were hurting families.

'You don't have to look any further than the 70,000 calls received by the NSW Office of Industrial Relations from workers and businesses since the introduction of WorkChoices in March to learn how hard people are doing it,' Della Bosca said.

'A large number of the calls have been from workers who have lost entitlements, such as overtime and holiday allowances.

Failed small business

'The changes have also failed small business. The Office of Industrial Relations has received calls from businesses [people] who are confused and frustrated by the new requirements and extra costs.

'A small business survey last week found 40% of those surveyed had a poor understanding of the legislation, 40% believed it was unfair to employees and only 10% agreed it would improve business productivity.'

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