11/10/2005 - 22:00

Textbook Howard on IR proposals

11/10/2005 - 22:00


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John Howard is one of the canniest politicians in the business and his proposed reform of industrial relations has his textbook approach written all over it.

Textbook Howard on IR proposals

John Howard is one of the canniest politicians in the business and his proposed reform of industrial relations has his textbook approach written all over it.

Earlier this year, he got debate rolling with an outline of his proposal. Scant on detail, it was enough to shift the union movement into top gear to publicise its concerns about Mr Howard’s plans.

After allowing these dissenting voices to throw everything they have at his plan, he has listened closely to his own colleagues and electorate in a bid to offer compromises he believes will make the package saleable to the general public.

In doing so, I reckon he has probably put on the table roughly what he expected to when this debate started. But now, as ever, he looks like a politician who can listen.

All good stuff if you believe in his leadership and agree with his policies.

Not so great for Kim Beazley and his backers.


Balancing the workplace reality

SO, what of these IR reforms?

Well, I am one who is disappointed that they have to come at the expense of the state system but I do believe these are important changes that have to be made – not just for economic reasons, but also for fairness.

Unfair dismissal rules have been abused for way too long and need to be changed.

It is not just about increasing employment opportunities because employers will have less fear in hiring newcomers, it is simply not right that an employer has to pay up (usually about $5,000 minimum) just to get rid of someone who simply doesn’t make the grade, or worse is undermining the stability of their workforce.

This is something that many small and medium business owners will understand. In these times of economic plenty most firms are trying to hang on to every staff member they can, but sometimes holding one bad apple in a team costs employers in other ways – including the loss of good workers who refuse to put up with their colleagues.

Unfair dismissal is something that will always have cases of abuse, depending on where the power lies. Under Mr Howard’s reforms that power will shift back towards the employer.

Some will say this is wrong, but where does the assumption come from that employers should be the ones to bear the brunt of unfairness. Many employers take home less than the people who work for them, many can ill-afford the damage caused by having the wrong person on staff.

And no matter how many personality tests you employ, you inevitably make mistakes during the hiring process.

Of course, the proposed IR changes are not just about unfair dismissal laws.

There is the shift towards individual workplace agreements over collective bargaining.

I am one who agrees with this. Having worked as an employee under both systems, I believe that empowering individuals is good for the company they work for. Unfortunately, it is biased towards those with talent and skill, which is exactly how it should be. The workplace should not be a place for experimenting with some form of socialist utopia.

Society has already worked this out. Increasingly, the individual has grown in importance as the rights of each of us have been weighed against the rights of the community as a whole.

There are plenty of examples of how this has gone too far, but the ultimate display of community over the individual – communism – has been all but consigned to history’s rubbish bin as a failed experiment.

Workplace agreements, when negotiated properly, can be of great benefit to both employer and employee.

The union movement senses that this new one-to-one relationship also consigns them to history. That may well be, but is that a bad thing? Unions were created because of inequity. They have been instrumental in changing laws and culture to remove that inequity. Maybe their time has gone?

Then again, as I have argued before, maybe this changed landscape offers opportunity for unions that are prepared to grasp it.

Many in small business feel as aggrieved about big business market domination as employees of a century ago felt about their employers. Perhaps new unionism should be helping employers, rather than hindering them?

And many employees faced with workplace agreements for the first time may need assistance. Why can’t unions help their members with this rather than simply belting out propaganda against workplace agreements, even when they leave many of their members better off.

I believe strongly that Australia has built a very fair basis for employees and employers to thrive with the cultural acceptance of four weeks leave and other rights that are generous when compared to rival economies.

If we are going to compete internationally we need to continue to ensure life is as good as it can be for both the employee and the people who hire them. It’s all about balance.


Maximise value from centres of learning

WESTERN Australia’s public universities face some unique challenges.

In some ways Perth is blessed with having four of these institutions, but there is no doubt that is more than most cities of a similar size would normally have, which makes competition for students and funding quite fierce. As a state we need to maximise the value of having so many educational institutions here and use it as leverage to make this a strong centre of learning.


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