10/05/2013 - 06:50

Abbott urged to go harder on IR

10/05/2013 - 06:50

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Business groups have welcomed the industrial relations policy package announced this week by federal opposition leader Tony Abbott but most have lobbied for the coalition to go much further.

Mr Abbott unveiled a cautious policy that he said would "retain and improve” the Gillard government’s Fair Work Act.

"The only people with anything to worry about from this policy are dodgy union officials and their supporters." Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney.

His policy has been carefully crafted to try and avoid suggestions he plans to revive the Howard government’s contentious WorkChoices reforms.

CCI chief executive James Pearson said the policy did not address the full range of problems facing employers but was a sensible step towards establishing a fairer industrial relations system.

He welcomed the “more balanced” right-of-entry system, which will provide greater clarity as to which unions have a right to hold discussions with workers, reduce the risk of disputes between unions, and help address excessive right-of-entry visits.

Like other industry groups, Mr Pearson also welcomed the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), which proved effective at ensuring compliance with workplace laws within the construction industry.

However, he said some areas need further clarification.

“The coalition’s intent to put productivity back on the table during enterprise agreement negotiations and ensure industrial action is responsibly taken after meaningful negotiations needs to be backed up by legislation,” Mr Pearson said.

Resources industry employer group AMMA described the policy as a substantial step in the right direction.

“AMMA welcomes the return of a tough cop to the beat through the restoration of the ABCC,” AMMA executive director industry Scott Barklamb said.

He also welcomed a “more sensible approach” for the making of greenfield agreements for new resources projects.

Under the coalition policy, employers who cannot strike a deal with unions after three months of negotiations for ‘greenfields’ resources and construction projects will be able to bypass the union and take the agreement to the Fair Work Commission for approval.

Mr Barklamb said the AMMA also welcomed reform of the “out-of-control union right of entry laws that have allowed union salespeople to enter Australian workplaces on a daily basis to harass people to sign-up for membership, creating enormous disruption and lost productivity”.

Be he added, more needed to be done.

“We would like the reforms to have gone further and more comprehensively addressed the triple threat to our international competitiveness – unsustainable wage escalations, a combative labour environment, and declining productivity,” Mr Barklamb said.

In a similar vein, Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox welcomed the changes but said the coalition was “overly cautious”.

"The changes proposed to the laws dealing with right of entry, enterprise bargaining, and ‘greenfields’ agreements are most welcome,” he said.

“There are many other key issues that need to be addressed without delay.”

Mr Willox said he was concerned that any changes recommended by the Productivity Commission inquiry would be delayed until after the following federal election.

He also criticised the coalition’s “extremely generous” Paid Parental Leave Scheme, which will be funded through a levy on all ‘large’ businesses.

AHA(WA) chief executive Bradley Woods described the package as a “measured and stable transition”.

He particularly welcomed the commitment to protect small business from unfair prosecutions over non-intentional clerical errors.

“The proposed improvements to Labor’s individual flexibility agreements in Enterprise Bargaining Agreements will offer workers and employers more options to seek and deliver protected flexible working conditions,” Mr Woods said.

“Allowing parties to reach agreement on innovative work conditions to suit personal situations and business’ conditions is a win-win for employers and employees.

“Standard award conditions are preserved for those who choose this, whilst those seeking more flexible options will be protected by Labor’s existing 'better off overall' test.”

The coalition policy intends to keep the Fair Work Act in place and won't touch unfair dismissal laws and penalty rates.

Mr Abbott plans ask the Productivity Commission to review the longer-term operation of workplace laws.

"Any recommendations that the coalition supports would be taken to a new election for us to seek a mandate for them," he said.

The importance of productivity in enterprising bargaining would be re-emphasised under the Fair Work Act.

"Importantly, we want all workers to have access to individual flexibility arrangements (IFAs), and we won't allow them to be excluded by enterprise bargaining agreements," Mr Abbott said.

ACTU president Ged Kearney said IFAs were equivalent to reviving Australian Workplace Agreements, a key aspect of WorkChoices.

“What it means is they lose wages, they lose conditions, they lose any semblance of negotiating power in the workplace,” Ms Kearney said.

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