Right wing IR warrior says WorkChoices a 'useless mess'

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Right wing IR warrior says WorkChoices a 'useless mess'

He figured prominently in the waterfront dispute and the Mudginberri meatworks defeat of the unions - but Paul Houlihan reckons WorkChoices is 'useless, a God awful mess'.

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He figured prominently in the waterfront dispute and the Mudginberri meatworks defeat of the unions - but Paul Houlihan reckons WorkChoices is 'useless, a God awful mess'.

Houlihan, Managing Director of industrial relations consultant First IR which helped design the 1996 Workplace Relations Act, told a Sydney seminar WorkChoices was 'awful legislation'.

'I am about freedom and deregulation,' he told the seminar run by Sydney University Workplace Research Centre.

Dog's breakfast

'I was involved in the 1996 legislation, but the present situation is a dog's breakfast. The only virtue in WorkChoices was thrown out when the fairness test came in. It is now useless, a God awful mess.

'We don't think AWAs are a good thing and we don't go that way. Australian employees prefer to be in a collective agreement.'

Houlihan criticised trade unions for being obsessed with matter that meant little to their members.

'Things that are totemic to unions are frequently of little interest to workers,' he said. 'Annual leave loading - you rarely have to pay the full fee to end it, yet trade union officials want to battle for it.

'In negotiations you need to know two things: what you want, and what the other side wants. It is often the case people go into negotiations without knowing what they want.'

Narrower base for unions

Houlihan said that where unions are most concentrated they are making demands that are 'greater and greater on a narrower and narrower base'.

He said the next 12 months will be very interesting, if Labor wins the Federal election.

'It will be fascinating to watch what happens in the ALP,' he said. 'If I was a trade union official I would want my pound of flesh, but there is not much money left.

'I think it is probably true that Rudd is a fiscal conservative, but if Gillard is, is it a recent conversion?'

Testing time

Houlihan said the next few years would be a testing time for trade unions.

'They have lost a lot of experienced talent into politics,' he said. 'The trade union movement may have a lot of difficulty in satisfying its own pent up demand.'

Houlihan speculated that the coming period will be unstable, claiming that trade unions could do as much harm to the Australian economy as they did in the early 1980s, 'but I don't think they have the capacity to do it this time'.

'Then Laurie Carmichael headed the 38 hours campaign and a $28 pay rise and [AMWU National Secretary] George Campbell had "100,000 dead workers around his neck", as Paul Keating told him.'

CFMEU will 'run riot'

Houlihan said that if the ABCC goes, the CFMEU will 'run riot' in the construction sector.

He said he had just come from a meeting where there were discussions about $2.5bn to be spent on railway infrastructure immediately, but if the construction gets out of hand 'that will go'.

'I don't think the CFMEU's reputation is such as I would give them the benefit of the doubt,' Houlihan said.

Situation 'different now'

However, that scenario was disputed by Matthew Thistlethwaite, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Unions NSW, who said the situation was different now.

'Then was mostly awards only,' he said. 'But award campaigns are not happening now. Pattern bargaining is not allowed, and industrial action is much restricted.'

Thistlethwaite said unions are not about getting their 'pound of flesh' if Labor won the election.

'We will just be glad we got rid of Howard and can campaign for fair IR laws,' he said. 'And not just with industrial action, but also a political campaign and with a community focus.'

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