Apr 182007

Support for Labor IR plans
“It is not possible to see how any of the major announcements are a forward step for jobs or productivity from where we are today,”

So says Peter Hendy, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in response to Kevin Rudd’s outlining of his party’s approach to industrial relations, productivity and climate change.

Rudd’s speech makes good reading, even if it is filled with statistical point scoring and motherhood statements. That’s what’s expected in an election year from the Leader of the Opposition in a National Press Club address. Bugger all detail, but enough to whet the appetite of the hungry and test the waters which need testing. Hendy’s blanket dismissal is only to be expected coming from, as Julia Gillard so accurately pinned him this morning, “a paid-up member of the Liberal Party”, chief of staff to former Howardian Peter Reith, and economic adviser to Treasury under Bernie Fraser. As has been stated many times in the past, rejections of legislative policy from any direction other than the conservative direction are commonplace from Liberal Party ‘yes’ men in the upper eschelons of business and industry. Peter Hendy is not to be taken seriously, especially when statements such as….

“So, to take IR, we have a policy that is beneficial to our company members because that is what our Board and our General Council want. Sometimes, and I will not use any names to protect the ‘guilty’, what is in the best interest of the paid staff and the secretariat of an employer organisation, is not necessarily in the best interest of our company membership.”

….from an address to the H.R.Nicholls Society only last year on the subject of Industrial Relations and Workchoices. The ‘we’ he speaks of is the ACCI, however the ethos speaks volumes.
However, to return to the thrust of Rudd’s policy sampler on IR, it’s interesting to note that while Hendy knocks it outright, Heather Ridout of the Australian Industry Group much more cautiously agrees that the statements contain good and bad and that “They’ve made a start, but there’s a long way to go before business ticks off on these policies.” A fair statement and fair assessment of what was only a taster for both the deliverer and the recipients. Even the ACTU and peak union bodies aren’t welcoming the outlines of this IR stand with open arms.
There is a need for constant re-assessment of workplace conditions and methods of employment in any economy. Even your first year commerce student will recognise that fact, however it is clear to all but the welded-on conservative party apologist that Workchoices was never intended to offer workers any choices at all, other than ‘take this or piss off!’ Bannerman wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a Rudd Labor government exercising corporations powers in a bid to bring uniformity to the IR coalface. State’s need to recognise the benefits of co-operating with the Commonwealth under a collective Labor environment, in order to retain their individual state-structured award systems. It’s actually to the benefit of Federalism as a whole if they do.
Bannerman also won’t be surprised to hear, at some point in the future, that AWA’s, rather than being the one and only modus operandi employed by business in contracting staff, become an item of choice to be negotiated where beneficial to all parties concerned. Under Workchoices, this option to choose without unsavory consequences occurring for the worker doesn’t exist. AWA’s have their place under a system where the fair go remains a viable ethic. Just as collective bargaining and individual contracts have a place in the overall scheme of employment contracting. There is no sense in broadly abolishing AWA’s, given that so many are already in place. Grandfather those existing, by all means, but outright abolition just doesn’t make sense.
Bannerman hasn’t worked under an industry award for 18 years and with just one minor burp, he’s managed to survive and develop his lifestyle just fine, thanks very much. Blanket awards covering pay, conditions and even perks are now creatures of a bygone past. The reality of the current workplace is consensus, negotiation and productivity.
In order that the fair go, balance, equity and productivity are all evenly incorporated into an industrial relations mix by Labor, the Office of the Employment Advocate ought to be abolished, Union rights of entry made subject to negotiation between Union and employer, and the Industrial Relations Commission be granted a new set of dentures. Bannerman is a little distressed by the apparent intent to outlaw industrial action, save for where secret ballots are held to ascertain the opinion of a Union membership majority. This approach is wishy-washy. Either outlaw strikes altogether or don’t approach the issue. Workers must always retain the right – note that word, reader – to withdraw their labour when all other avenues of conciliation with the employer have failed. Workplaces are not homogenous, even within the one industry, even as a single Union body cannot hope to properly represent the best interests of all members within an industry. Rather than approaching that brickwall of legislating against industrial action, pressures both commercial and economic ought to be applied in order to enforce conciliation in order that a consensus position be achieved. Such a process must incorporate Union bodies in conjunction with industry bodies without name-calling, finger-pointing and blame-laying. Altruistic? Most likely, but experience has taught B-man that confrontation aids no-one.
If there is one point of note to take away from Rudd’s NPC speech, it’s this.

The core question for Australia’s long-term economic prosperity is how we re-build our flagging productivity growth.
This is the only way we can continue to improve living standards once the mining boom passes. This is all about making our own luck – rather than just hoping that we continue to be “the lucky country” blessed with abundant mineral wealth and burgeoning global demand.

Never were truer words with greater intent written or spoken. The last eleven years have been spent on the back of the Keating government reforms and the pain which engendered them. Let’s not allow those circumstances to recur through lack of fortitude or political will. Let’s continue to be lucky, but luck of our own creation not happenstance.

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