‘Time to get tough again on IR’, Reith tells Abbott

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‘Time to get tough again on IR’, Reith tells Abbott

Former hard-line IR Minister Peter Reith has challenged Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to take up labour market reform and not to remain ‘spooked’ on the issue by Labor and the unions.

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Former hard-line IR Minister Peter Reith has challenged Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to take up labour market reform and not to remain ‘spooked’ on the issue by Labor and the unions.
 
Reith, who led the Coalition attack on the MUA in 1998, will say in a speech in Melbourne today that calls for reform have fallen on deaf ears in Canberra, with the Opposition afraid of the issue and Prime Minister Julia Gillard a ‘captive of the unions’. His views were also contained in an article appearing in The Australian today (24/02/11).
 
Former IR adviser to then Prime Minister John Howard, SA Liberal MP Jamie Briggs, made a similar call for more WorkChoices-like reform last week.
 
Going backwards
 
He said Australia will have been ‘going backwards for nearly a decade’ by the next election.
 
‘The reality today is that the industrial relations system we now have is not good enough,’ Reith said.
 
‘It will get worse.’
 
‘The shortcomings may have been disguised by the resources boom, and the public may not realise the problems ahead, but Australia still needs a better system.’
 
Silenced
 
Reith claimed Liberal MPs had been silenced on the issue. Abbott has said it is up to the business community to convince the Coalition that more workplace reform is necessary, and has promised to make no major changes to the IR system during the first term of a Coalition Government.
 
‘I say we can’t afford not to fight this issue,’ he said.
 
‘We cannot abandon issues that we know must be addressed. Australia will be a lot of worse off if we sit mute, frightened to do the right thing. MPs are not in parliament to avoid issues; their job is to tackle the real issues, the difficult issues,’ he says.
 
‘Because Labor won the election, in part by attacking Howard’s WorkChoices, they were able to spook the Coalition into giving up on workplace relations.’
 
Challenge
 
‘That is a challenge that must be taken up, but not just by the business community. It is a challenge for the country as a whole,’ he says.
 
‘Even if the Coalition were elected at the next election, if the Coalition does not have a reasonable policy, then the Greens will deny the passage of any legislation.’
 
‘The reason we got our package through in 1996 was because the Democrats had the honesty to accept that we had a mandate built on the detailed policy released before the 1996 election.’
 
Militant unions
 
Reith also predicted that businesses would be forced to deal with militant unions this year as their AWAs expired.
 
‘Many of those arrangements come to an end in 2011 and as the unions have generous right-of-entry clauses it is certain that in 2011 many businesses will be forced, against the interests of the business and the employees, to negotiate with militant unionists,’ he said.
 
Reith also criticised the AWU’s move to attack Rio Tinto over its alleged harassment of workers at its aluminium plants.
 
Politics of hate
 
‘[AWU national secretary] Paul Howes and the AWU resort to the politics of hate, envy and class warfare because they have nothing else to throw at good employers,’ he said.
 
‘His threats to Rio and, by implication, others in the resources sector, will always be counter-productive when employers and employees work together.’
 
‘The frustration for the AWU is that it just can’t keep or recruit members with a good employer who offers safe work, higher remuneration and the chance to be treated as a valuable member of a good team.’
 
‘The union’s ... opposition to AWAs was never about workers, it was always all about the powers of union bosses. AWAs were abolished by Labor because they had been too successful for workers.’
 
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