Rudd: 'you can't please everyone'- amidst calls for detail

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Rudd: 'you can't please everyone'- amidst calls for detail

'You can't please everybody' — that is Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's guiding philosophy in dealing with criticism of his industrial relations changes announced this week.

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'You can't please everybody' — that is Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's guiding philosophy in dealing with criticism of his industrial relations changes announced this week. Meanwhile both employers and unions are calling for more detail on the changes.

Rudd said Labor's IR policy if it wins government later this year would be secret ballots for all strikes, no strike pay and industrial action protected only in the context of agreement bargaining. This has made some unions unhappy, particularly the AMWU.

As well, Rudd announced changes to the unfair dismissal laws which lowers the threshold to 15, but includes 'probation' periods for new workers of six or 12 months during which no claim can be made. This has upset some employer organisations, including ACCI and the small business association.

Restore balance

Rudd said he wanted to restore 'balance' in industrial relations because Prime Minister John Howard had gone too far in favouring employers.

'We need to restore that balance so that it is a fair balance between employers and employees so that we get the balance right between fairness and flexibility and the workplace,' Rudd said.

Criticism from unions and business

'I notice there's been some criticism from various trade union leaders,' he said. 'I understand there's been some criticism also from elements of the business community.

'You can't please everybody when it comes to industrial relations laws.'

Rudd said Labor had made its unfair dismissal regime lawyer-free and also exempted small business from unfair dismissal laws for the first 12 months of a person's employment.

'Will this make everybody perfectly happy?' he said. 'Of course not, that's what national leadership is about. National leadership is about getting the balance right between prosperity, long-term prosperity and the Australian fair go.'

Employers and unions want more detail on Rudd's IR plans

Meanwhile, following up complaints about the ALP policy, ACCI and the AMWU finally agree on something — they want to see more detail on Labor's new industrial relations policy before they are (relatively) happy with it.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) said employers need to see the whole of Labor's alternative industrial relations policy to understand its full effect, and 'the extent of the roll-back'.

Peter Hendy, ACCI Chief Executive, said that 'while changes to some parts of Labor policy are welcome, and effort has been made in a number of areas, the rights of small business and employers would still be eroded'.

'It is not possible to see how any of the major announcements are a forward step for jobs or productivity from where we are today,' he said.

Critical issues

Hendy said critical issues such as whether Labor will increase mandatory employment conditions on employers, on compulsory arbitration of industry wide awards, on powers of industrial tribunals, on union powers of entry into businesses and on forced collective bargaining obligations have not been explained.

'By abolishing AWAs, Labor forces industry to work under industry-wide awards and collective bargaining,' he said. 'It denies existing rights to deal individually with employees on employment matters.'

Hendy said Labor's full policy on strikes is unknown.

'Will strikes be allowed over non-employment matters, such as union demands for compulsory bargaining fees on non-unionists (currently illegal)?' he asked.

Secondary boycotts

'Will trade practices laws that prevent secondary boycott strikes be softened by removing the ACCC's enforcement power against unions? Will laws against strikes in the building industry be changed? Will the regulator who enforces anti-strikes laws in the building industry be abolished? To date, these measures have been Labor policy in Government or Opposition.'

Hendy said the prospect of Labor allowing unfair dismissal claims against any business where dismissals are made for genuine operational reasons is also a concern for industry, and opens the prospect for a return of the unfair dismissal industry.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union retiring National Secretary, Doug Cameron, of course, wants some different questions answered.

More detail on strike laws

Cameron opposes the unfair dismissal policy and has called for further detail of the secret ballot and strike condition policies.

'I don't think that workers should be left with no unfair dismissal rights even for a period of time, but that's a matter for judgment and a matter for debate within the party,' Cameron said. 'Provided the secret ballots are about democracy in the workplace then I don't have a problem with it. But if secret ballots are simply a device, as under John Howard, to deny workers the right to take industrial action, I'm opposed to them.'

Used to target activists

Cameron said disallowing strike action under collective agreements had previously been used as a device to target activists.

'This has been used to terminate workers ... under the Howard Government's legislation you have no right to take industrial action, delegates and activists are targeted,' he said. 'Provided there are checks and balances to make sure that delegates and activists on the job are protected, then I think we can live with that, but it really means there has to be a combination of protections within the Act.'

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