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My letter below refers to Abbott’s undertaking to restore workplace relations regulation to the “sensible centre”. But as it is now so far on the left such action requires  major changes.

According to the Financial Review, Abbott has “signalled a Coalition government would support a business push to reduce penalty rates through the Fair Work Commission.” But any such reliance on the FWC would be pointless given that its members overwhelmingly support detailed regulation and tend to favour union views regardless of likely adverse effects on employment. Any meaningful move to the sensible centre must involve a major reduction in the powers of the FWC (the Coalition has hinted at having a possible appeal mechanism but that is not the solution).

The attitude of the FWC is reflected in its decision yesterday to award massive increases (18-30%) in wage rates for apprentices. This decision was by a full bench comprised of all ex-unionists. If implemented it would clearly have adverse effects on employment, particularly youth employment. Abetz should indicate that if elected the Coalition will take steps to ensure it is reviewed.

Abetz (or Abbott) might also indicate  agreement with the weird response by the head of the ACTU, Dave Oliver, to his (Abetz’s) rejection of a complaint by the CEO of the Master Builders Association that the Coalition would do little to “change the unequal negotiating power of unions” in regard to new-projects agreements. Oliver complained that “it is unbelievable that a Coalition government would try to tear up agreements negotiated freely between workers and employers if they do not meet their version of what is an acceptable pay rise”. Subject to ensuring such a negotiation process is actually undertaken “freely”, this is exactly what any retained Fair Work Australia should be required to do in the amendments to the legislation promised by the Coalition.

Des Moore

Workplace Pendulum
(published in The Australian, 23 August 2013.)
[bracketed sections omitted by editor]

You report opposition workplace spokesman Eric Abetz indicating a Coalition government would require companies and unions to show the Fair Work Commission that a proposed wage agreement reflected genuine discussions on productivity increases (“Coalition to police wage claims”, 22/8). Elsewhere, Tony Abbott indicates that the workplace relations pendulum would be restored to “the sensible centre”.

These comments come at a time when major companies, such as Grocon, Chevron, Blue Scope and Teys, have recently added to previous complaints indicating an inability to contain costs under the Fair Work system.  It is not the “lazy companies” Abetz refers to but the commission that is unable to find the sensible centre that allows sufficient company profits to finance the new investments that are vital to the economy and employment levels. The Coalition must legislate to reduce the powers of the commission, not allow it to determine what Abetz describes as “a fair and reasonable thing”.

Research [by the HR Nicholls Society], to be published soon, will show that since the Fair Work Act started Australia’s labour costs have grown much faster than in comparable overseas countries. That is a long way from the sensible middle.

Des Moore
[Publicity Officer, HR Nicholls Society]
South Yarra Vic

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