Penalty rates not cut, but can be traded off: Abbott

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Penalty rates not cut, but can be traded off: Abbott

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is sticking by his promise not to take penalty rates off workers, but has left the way open for them to be given up in exchange for other workplace flexibility changes.

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Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is sticking by his promise not to take penalty rates off workers, but has left the way open for them to be given up in exchange for other workplace flexibility changes.

This could be done through individual flexibility arrangements or the making of new awards for small businesses.

Speaking at a press conference after the announcement of his new IR policy Abbott said he would not be winding back penalty rates but recognised they are a significant issue for businesses, particularly in tourism and hospitality.

However, he implied that if businesses wanted changes to penalty rates they would have to get them through the current Fair Work system.

Sensible changes

‘They should remain [a] provision first of the Fair Work Commission and second and third subject to the kinds of sensible changes that might be possible under enterprise bargaining agreements and individual flexibility arrangements,’ Abbott said.

‘I would encourage businesses that think that it is important to maximise employment and to maximise the success of the business and its workers, to consider enterprise bargaining agreements or individual flexibility arrangements.’

Abbott said he regretted that individual flexibility arrangements have not been better utilised under the Fair Work Act so far.

‘In government [we] would be encouraging businesses that have an issue that might be mitigating against employing more people or operating more effectively, to seek to make appropriate enterprise bargaining agreements or to seek to have appropriate individual flexibility agreements that pass the better off overall test,’ he said.

Impediments

‘There are provisions in the existing legislation. There have been some impediments in the existing legislation such as the EBA exclusion clause that we will remove, but nevertheless we want to encourage people to make the best possible use of the improved Fair Work Act that we will give them.’

Nothing to stop a small business modern award
 
On suggestions that there should be a specific small business modern award Abbott said there is nothing to stop appropriate organisations from going to the Commission and seeking the creation of an award.

‘If people wish to do that they have a perfect right to do so,’ he said.

Flexibility agreements
 
One change to flexibility agreements that Abbott has guaranteed to make is to extend the period to ‘undo’ them to 90 days.

Abbott said a Coalition Government would want to give unions ‘perfect access’ to existing members, but would not allow union officials to invade people’s lunchtimes as proposed in Labor’s changes to the Fair Work Act.

However, surprisingly, IR spokesman Eric Abetz foreshadowed applying the proposed new anti-bullying powers of the FW Commission to union officials who ‘bully employers and employees to join up to a union’.

Under the Coalition, the effects of the new bullying provisions would be softened by ensuring that the Fair Work Ombudsman, or other advisory body, deal with bullying complaints before proceedings are filed in the Commission.

Pub test

On the proposed Productivity Commission review of the FW Act Abbott said that any policy the Coalition took to the 2016 election would have to pass the ‘pub test’.

‘It would have to satisfy people that it was consistent with the trust that should exist between the people and their government,’ he said.

Abbott said that before enterprise agreements are registered it will have to be established that discussions on productivity took place.

He said workers and management were ‘quite capable of coming up with sensible improvements’.

On protected industrial action, Abetz said unions should be able to show first that what they are claiming is ‘not exorbitant’ and also that they’ve been engaged in genuine discussions and one of those issues should be productivity.
 
Abbott denied that for greenfield negotiations employers would be able to ‘make a deal with themselves’ if talks with unions had not resolved the issues after three months.

Ratified

He said that what was in the greenfield agreement would have to be ratified by the Fair Work Commission and have to pass the ‘better off overall’ test.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said Abbott’s policies meant unfair individual contracts would be back under a Liberal Government.

The Greens called Abbott ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ and vowed to block the legislation in the Senate.
 
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