NOTE: This was first published on my personal blog on Thursday 16 August
There has been a lot of talk this year about productivity, calls for more ‘flexibility’ and strong words about the balance of the Fair Work Act.
If you only read the major daily newspapers in Australia you’d be forgiven for thinking that workers were endlessly taking industrial action and deliberately sabotaging productivity. That is certainly the view that big business lobby groups like the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry would like to have you think, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Indeed the recent review into the operations of the Fair Work Act showed that the legislation was working as it should be working. ACTU assistant secretary, Tim Lyons, noted in his piece on R@W News last week:
“It’s important however that we separate myth from reality on IR and productivity. While Australia has issues with productivity it is for reasons almost entirely unconnected with labour law.”
“Australia’s relatively low productivity growth is a matter for concern. However, this is a long term problem. WorkChoices didn’t fix it, and Fair Work hasn’t made it worse. Labour laws are not the cause of our productivity problems, and they’re not the solution.”
In all of the commentary around the Fair Work review and productivity, we are still yet to hear from the Liberal Party about the details of their industrial relations policy. At the 2010 election voters were told that we would be given the full details of their industrial relations policy. Instead the Coalition went into hiding on IR with Tony Abbott meekly declaring that WorkChoices was “dead, buried, cremated”.
In more recent times, a lot of things have been said about industrial relations by Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and the Liberal Party’s IR spokesperson Eric Abetz, yet we can’t necessarily take what has been said to be policy because we’re regularly told that details will be released before the next election. It certainly reminds me of Tony Abbott’s now infamous line about not believing him unless it’s written down.
However we can start to build a pretty good idea of what the Liberal Party’s industrial relations policy may look like. The most recent commentary comes from Eric Abetz and according to reports the Liberal Party is considering changes to unfair dismissal rules that would force a worker to pay court costs if they lose the case.
But this is only one such example. There are plenty more.
Back in February Tony Abbott was telling Victorian members of the Master Builders Association that a Coalition government would return to the Australian Building and Construction Commission regime. And in July this year, Mr Abbott was busy telling the Tourism & Transport Forum that he understood their needs; their needs for more flexibility with individual flexibility agreements to be more flexible.
Not only did Mr Abbott tell employers he’d deliver more flexibility he then, a week later, declared that if the Coalition were elected at the next election, workers would find he would be their best friend. Remarkable given it was only a few years ago that John Howard was declaring he was workers’ best friend before introducing WorkChoices.
With all the talk about productivity and the Coalition’s constant reference to flexibility, it’s about time the Coalition comes clean about their IR policy.