Still ‘lots’ of WorkChoices left, say happy employers

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Still ‘lots’ of WorkChoices left, say happy employers

A leading employer organisation says Labor’s new IR system will contain a ‘lot’ of WorkChoices, and says that business was behind the Howard Government introducing the fairness test for AWAs.

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A leading employer organisation says Labor’s new IR system will contain a ‘lot’ of WorkChoices, and says that business was behind the Howard Government introducing the fairness test for AWAs.

Heather Ridout, CEO of the Australian Industry Group, told ABC radio she though Prime Minister Rudd’s decision to consult with business on the new 10 national employment standards was ‘a very sensible approach’.

‘I think he was pretty cognisant of the problems employers had last time with the minimum standards and the fact that there was really major complexity,’ she said.

Tricky advice

‘We had to give quite detailed and tricky advice to companies. We made endless submissions to the Government about clarifying a whole lot of issues around payment and accrual rules about leave. You know, it was really very complex. So I think it is a very sensible approach.’

Asked whether it is too early to do a post mortem on WorkChoices and where and why it didn’t work, Ridout said that in fact Labor is actually going to retain a lot of the key pieces of the structure and architecture of WorkChoices.

National system

‘You know, the centre of WorkChoices was the formation of a national system of industrial relations using the head of power, the corporations’ power, which of course we had the big High Court decision about,’ she said. ‘So that’s going to stay and the Labor Party is committed to that.

Modernising awards

‘They’re also committed to modernising and rationalising the over 4000 awards that really set out employment conditions in Australia. So that process is going to take place over the next two years. The last government didn’t succeed in that. But that was all central to WorkChoices.

‘They’re also going to have this set of minimum standards, which are going to cover all workers, even you and me, in the workplace. And they’re going to have 10, more than the last government had, and include things like redundancy and long service leave in it.

‘So those three big features remain, which are central to the architecture of WorkChoices.’

As well, said Ridout, rules on right of entry of unions in workplaces, secret ballot provisions are going to be retained along with the Australian Building and Construction Commission ‘which was incredibly important for the construction industry’.

‘So when you think of it, apart from penalty rates and a whole lot of issues around the no-disadvantage test, there’s going to be a lot of WorkChoices, slightly modified, but certainly a lot of the features of WorkChoices are going to be there,’ she said.

Pleased with outcome

Ridout said she was ‘very pleased’ with this outcome.

In response to a question from a listener on whether Ridout tried to have [former PM] Howard change WorkChoices, Ridout said:

‘The AWA issue was really a part of the fairness issue in WorkChoices, and when they were first introduced, they had a no-disadvantage test. That was removed and that’s where a lot of the problems arose. The Government subsequently reintroduced the fairness test with support from organisations such as ours, and I guess we can claim that at least we did that.’

Tension with unfair dismissals

Ridout said the other area that caused a lot of tension was around unfair termination rules ‘and of course, that really wasn’t part of WorkChoices, it was sitting there as a bill that had been to Parliament 41 times’.

‘So there were those issues and they’ve been the major flashpoints, lightning rods I suppose, for union discontent, and they were the ones I think the Australian public actually voted on in the last election.’


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