Workplace policy threatens Labor credibility

ELECTION support for Labor from business, particularly small business is balancing on the State Opposi-tion’s industrial relations policy.

Labor’s intends to abolish workplace agreements but retain individual contracts.

Labor also wants to introduce a no disadvantage test, similar to Federal workplace law.

However, Labor’s Industrial Relations spokesman John Kobelke will not give exact details of the no disadvantage test.

“We want to provide choice and flexibility. We are not proposing to force people into collective agreements,” Mr Kobelke said.

The test threatens to bring labour relations back to a centralised system – exactly what workplace agreements legislation is intended to avoid.

WA’s workplace agreement legislation has a safety net in the Minimum Conditions of Employ-ment Act.

This enshrines workers’ rights to conditions such as four weeks annual leave, two weeks sick leave, bereavement leave and parenting leave.

Combined Small Business Associations of WA president Oliver Moon said the minimum rate of pay under the Act could be higher.

“However, employment conditions are such that employers won’t get people to work for them if they don’t offer enough money,” Mr Moon said.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry director operations Brendan McCarthy believes industrial relations is a pivotal issue.

“This has significant implications for the WA economy. It has major consequences for business investment and reliability of labour supply,” Mr McCarthy said.

“If the Labor Party acquiesces to unions, then the business community will form an opinion as to who is running the Labor Party.

“If WA Labor Leader Geoff Gallop dresses this up to look like Labor is actually keeping individual contracts when in reality it is undermining them, that will be seen for what it is.”

Dr Gallop is in an awkward position.

His party believes workers at the lower end of the wage scale are being disadvantaged by workplace agreements. The unions want them scrapped altogether.

However, removing individual contracts will cost Labor votes in one of its traditionally strong areas – the mining sector. Workers in the sector have been doing very well out of workplace agreements.

A Federal Labor Government has also indicated a desire to return to the days of collective bargaining.

Mr Gallop has won the right for the WA Labor Party to pursue its policy on individual contracts.

However, the WA unions are threatening to call a State Conference and challenge his leadership if he persists with this approach.

Mr Moon said WA could be pushed back into the old award system.

“Awards put employers in straitjackets. They don’t take into account how employers need to run their businesses.

“Awards, in the past, have been made for big companies. There has been no consideration given to the needs of small business.”

Mr Moon said abolishing workplace agreements would get the unions involved – something small business does not want.

“The Minimum Conditions of Employment Act is an Act of Parliament – something the unions have no say in,” he said.

Small business is the biggest employer in WA, yet most of its workforce is non-unionised.

Mr Moon said it appeared all WA Labor policy came straight from the Federal Labor Party.

“Mr Gallop has gone cap in hand to Kim Beazley over mandatory sentencing and workplace agreements,” he said.

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