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Scepticism and disbelief in response to Government’s hard-sell strategy

WAVE after wave of industrial reforms by the Liberal Government provided an attractive environment for WA businesses prepared to invest in growth. Yet the fourth wave promises to be the most remembered, for a variety of reasons. Gary Kleyn reports.

THE Industrial Relations Reform Bill has been met with unequivocal rejection by industry and industrial relations specialists, while also putting some of the unions offside.

Labour Relations Minister John Kobelke is selling the Bill as the answer to the prayers of workers

and employers by providing better conditions while also improving productivity.

“This Bill aims to promote a more harmonious workplace with less stress, less intimidation, less exploitation and to put in place world-best practices to guarantee greater productivity,” Mr Kobelke said.

But the hard sell has been lost on industry, the opposition and industrial advocates, which questioned the Government’s real motive.

Master Builders’ Association director Michael McLean said the Bill was little more than providing unions with more power.

CCI chief executive Lyndon Rowe said the Bill represented a charter of rights for unions and would make the unions WA’s industrial police.

Australian Hotels’ Association WA executive director Bradley Wood, however, was less forthright with his criticism.

“The key is to be pro-actively positive and not be violently opposed,” Mr Wood said.

National Party leader Max Trenorden said the Labor Government was hoping that union membership would rise.

“People should know that a lot of these so-called reforms are being driven by the Labor Party’s desperate need for more union money,” Mr Trenorden said.

“Workplace reform in recent years has seen union membership decline and that has hit Labor’s finances.

“It’s a tragedy for the State that some of the great gains in this area are being rolled back because Labor needs to replenish its coffers.”

Blake Dawson Waldon partner David Parker agrees.

“There has clearly been a policy decision on behalf of the Government to increase the role of unions and the Commission in the regulation of employment conditions,” he said.

“The greatly increased ambit and scope for right of entry by unions onto premises will potentially see employers being called upon to deal with unions on a much more frequent and detailed basis than has been the case before.”

Claims that the changes would lead to productivity increases and work place harmony were also scoffed at.

Deacons lawyers senior associate Alistair Salmon said it would have a dramatic effect on the employability of workers and on the WA economy.

“It (the Bill) is a free kick for unions to make awards,” Mr Salmon said.

“I will expect to see unions busily creating awards, particularly in growth areas like Internet Technology. But it could also be in professional areas like accountants and lawyers.

Mr Rowe said the Bill was short-sighted and ignored the wishes of both employees and employers.

“It ignores totally the fact that, in 2002, employers and employees in WA are accustomed to a new culture in the workplace and, by and large, have embraced the flexibility and scope for higher earnings that are available under the 1990s reforms,” Mr Rowe said.

“Whether the Bill will result in a win-win situation for all stakeholders including, importantly, employees, is not something that can be confidently anticipated at this stage,” Mr Parker said.

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