Is WorkChoices really dead – or just foxing?


Is WorkChoices really dead – or just foxing?

Has WorkChoices really expired, as Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson claimed yesterday, or is it just playing dead?


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Has WorkChoices really expired, as Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson claimed yesterday, or is it just playing dead?
Well, it all depends on what you mean by WorkChoices.
Nelson made it clear yesterday that the Liberal and National Parties do not want to carry the carcass of WorkChoices with them for the next three years and have it rise from the dead as an issue at the next election.
‘We’ve listened to the Australian people, we respect the decisions that they have made, we’ve listened and we have learned and WorkChoices is dead,’ Nelson told a press conference.
‘No longer our policy’
‘The things Australians understood to be presented by WorkChoices that were taken to the election and legislation that was introduced in 2006 that as far as the Coalition parties are concerned that is no longer our policy, they are not the policies that we support.’
That seems unequivocal, however Nelson took pains to distinguish between the WorkChoices legislation brought in during 2006 and the IR legislation brought in as the Workplace Relations Act in 1996 and subsequent amendments up to WorkChoices.
‘All of those policies which we took to elections from 1996 when we were in Government, which were supported by the Australian people, we stand strongly by,’ Nelson said.
There is speculation as to what exactly this comment means.
Trouble for Rudd
Two areas seem likely to cause trouble for the Rudd Government in getting legislation through the Senate.
The first is AWAs. Nelson seems to be defending the pre-WorkChoices version of AWAs which had a no disadvantage test. Nelson may try to amend Labor’s legislation abolishing AWAs when it comes up in the Senate in February next year so something similar to AWAs with a no disadvantage test can continue.
However Labor will oppose that and the Coalition is not likely to want to fight to the death over it until it loses control of the Senate in July. So it is likely AWAs will be abolished, as Labor wants.
Unfair dismissals
Second, and more importantly, are the unfair dismissal laws.
Labor’s unfair dismissal laws brought in by Paul Keating were very unpopular with small and medium business, which had too many examples of bad employees holding out for ‘going away money’ and getting it.
The Howard Government abolished unfair dismissals for all business with 100 or fewer employees.
Labor is planning to bring unfair dismissals back for all employees, but with the proviso of 12 months service for employers with 15 employees or fewer, or six months for the rest, before a claim can be lodged.
Take a stand
Employers obviously prefer the current situation and the Coalition seems determined to take a stand on this issue.
Shadow Workplace Relations Minister Julie Bishop is already calling for an independent inquiry into the impact of unfair dismissal laws on small business.
‘We want to have an independent assessment of the economic consequences of unfair dismissal laws and so that’s what we’ve been talking about,’ she said at the press conference.
‘Leisurely’ timetable
Asked if this inquiry might hold up the legislation Bishop took a swipe at Labor IR plans, saying Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard’s timetable for the introduction of the unfair dismissals exemption ‘appears somewhat leisurely’.
‘I would suggest that she brings on the draft legislation and allows us to analyse and scrutinise it,’ she said.
‘And we believe that there should be an independent examination of the impact of the exemption on small business that has occurred to date from 2006 through to this time to see the economic consequences that have occurred as a result of the exemption and then we’ll be in a position to look at what Labor has proposed.’
A real fight
So look out for a real fight over unfair dismissals, where the Liberal Party will draw a line and try to stand up for part of its traditional constituency — business.

As for the rest of the Fair Work Australia new IR system that Labor is proposing, everyone — including Dr Nelson — will have to wait for the details towards the middle of next year.  
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