Tony Abbott’s planned overhaul of industrial relations laws is a return to the doomed WorkChoices legislation, ACTU president Ged Kearney said on Wednesday night.
Ms Kearney told ABC TV’s Lateline that she stood by her claim that Mr Abbott’s plan to retain and bolster “individual flexibility arrangements” [IFAs], which would form the backbone of Mr Abbott’s newly-announced workplace policies, would be “no better” than Australian Workplace Agreements under WorkChoices.
This was despite the fact that Prime Minister Julia Gillard introduced IFAs under her shakeup of workplace legislation.
About 25 per cent of workers are now on IFAs, and Ms Kearney said “it’s no secret that we want to not have individual contracts”.
But she insisted the current IFAs system was preferable, as it was underpinned by the legislated entitlement of workers to collective bargaining, even on individual contracts.
“The ones that are around right now have protections around them, number one they are well and truly embossed in a system that has collective bargaining at its very heart.”
When Mr Abbott launched his IR strategy last week, it was widely seen as being designed to head off suggestions he was reincarnating WorkChoices.
Mr Abbott vowed to crack down on “dodgy” unions and their officials, and make the right of unions to enter workplaces “sensible and fair”.
He did not commit to scrapping penalty rates or change unfair dismissal laws.
“Our policy will not reintroduce Australian Workplace Agreements, nor will it weaken safety nets or cause any Australian worker to go backwards,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney.
“There won’t be another Work Choices – it is dead, buried and cremated. The past is the past and we will not go back to it,” he said.
The Coalition policy document states that: “A Coalition Government will ensure that enterprise agreements cannot restrict the use of IFAs.”
“Because a Coalition Government will retain Labor’s own ‘Better Off Overall Test’ it will mean that any IFA will always lead to a worker being better off. A Coalition Government will not reintroduce AWAs.”
Ms Kearney said this was the thin end of the wedge.
“We would rather not have individual flexibility agreements, we would rather not have individual contracts because they – and here’s why – is because they open people to exploitation. However, we do have right now an industrial relations system that is based on collective bargaining, where individual flexibility agreements can be controlled through the collective bargains process and where there are protections in place because unions can actually go into workplaces and deal with these issues.
“At the very heart of what Tony Abbott is saying is, he doesn’t want any of that, he wants carte blanche across the board.”
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