21st February 2008
Square brackets omitted by Editorial
In commenting on the Opposition's backflip on supporting some form of Australian Workplace Agreement, Brad Norrington concludes that "John Howard must regret that he went too far" on AWAs (20/2).That is certainly the popular conclusion. An alternative conclusion might be that his government did not go far enough in explaining the virtue of allowing employers and employees to negotiate individual agreements with relatively limited restrictions on employment conditions.
The previous Workplace Relations minister, Joe Hockey, claimed on Four Corners that fellow ministers were unaware that some workers on AWAs might experience reduced conditions compared with a designated award. If that was the case, it indicates an unbelievable failure to recognise that conditions stipulated in some awards did not reflect current working conditions or take account of the many persons out of a job and prepared to work for conditions different to those on the award.
In short, although some individual agreements involved reduced conditions, there were good reasons for this, notably that they provided increased employment opportunities, particularly in lesser-skilled service industries.
Neither the backflip nor the criticisms of AWAs by present minister Julia Gillard have recognised that. [This despite the Government's decision to ask the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to modernise the award system, which effectively acknowledges the system's failure to reflect economic conditions in the labour market.]