Labor jumps on reports WorkChoices to be 'softened'


Labor jumps on reports WorkChoices to be 'softened'

Prime Minister John Howard and three senior federal Ministers have issued a blanket denial that the Government is planning any softening of its WorkChoices legislation.


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Prime Minister John Howard and three senior federal Ministers have issued a blanket denial that the Government is planning any softening of its WorkChoices legislation.

But Labor believes the Government’s real plan is to make the industrial relations laws even tougher.

Media reports over the Easter Break said there was a contingency plan in existence, quaintly called ‘Break Glass in Case of Emergency’, developed under previous Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews.

Andrews said he knew of no such plan while he was the Minister responsible, the current Workplace Minister Joe Hockey also denied any knowledge of it, and so did Prime Minister John Howard and Attorney General Phillip Ruddock.

Labor jumps on claims

Labor, naturally enough, jumped on the claims that WorkChoices could be wound back, with Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd saying: ‘There’s only one guarantee to change Howard’s unfair industrial relations laws and that’s to change the Howard Government.’

Rudd said there was evidence that rather than softening WorkChoices, the Government was planning even more radical IR legislation.

He referred to a speech Finance Minister Nick Minchin gave to the HR Nichols Society early last year.

An ABC report of the speech, based on a tape recording, showed Michin saying the Government is planing ‘another wave’ of industrial relations changes if it wins the 2007 Federal Election.

Minchin also said most Australians ‘violently disagree’ with the IR changes.

‘There’s only one way to change these industrial relations laws, that’s not to wait for Howard to have a change of heart, it’s for Howard’s Government to be removed from Office,’ Rudd said.

Use it if heat gets too intense

The media reports quoted a ‘senior Government adviser’ as saying: ‘The document is sitting in a filing cabinet in my office. We will hold the line for as long as possible but if the heat gets too intense, we’re ready to [use it].’

Alleged key features of the plan include:

  • reducing the exemption from unfair dismissal, currently set at 100 employees, to somewhere between 25 and 50;
  • guaranteeing public holidays and penalty rates for weekend work;
  • strengthening maternity leave; and
  • strengthening workers’ redundancy entitlements.
Political problems
It is difficult to imagine how these changes could be implemented in the seven or so months before the next federal election.

What would happen to workers on AWAs who have already traded their penalty rates for higher hourly rates if penalty loadings returned? Would they suffer an overall pay cut if they no longer worked hours which would attract a penalty?

Would those new workers on AWAs which do not include penalty rates suddenly begin to be paid them?

Would the right to unfair dismissal claims be based on the number of workers on the day the worker was sacked, or the day the claim went in?

In any case, such a move would be politically devastating for the Howard Government, which has consistently claimed that the new laws are good for the economy. Would they now argue they were ‘bad’ for the economy, or that the changes were ‘good, but not so good’ as the previous laws.

Could a government ever get away with saying it was making a decision it admitted was bad the nation but good for its political survival?


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