The Guardian 23 February, 2005

Bosses reach for the big stick

A chorus of employer cheer groups is urging the Howard Government to take a big stick to Australian workers and their families. Employers First and the Business Council of Australia laid out the strategy with demands to slash weekend penalty payments, end wage cases for the low-paid, and strip back minimum award conditions.

Unions NSW Secretary, John Robertson, called the wish-list "a direct attack on families' living standards, security and the way our children are raised". In NSW, Employers First has applied to the Industrial Relations Commission to chop penalty rates paid under the Clerical and Administrative Employees Award. Female intensive call centres, shops, medical centres and offices would be hit by effective wage reductions of up to 25 percent.

With the Howard government set to gain control of the Senate in July, employers are turning their wish lists into firm expectations.

Nationally, the Business Council of Australia (BCA), representing the country's largest 100 companies, is demanding that the Howard Government outlaw award negotiations on anything outside six limited matters.

Redundancy pay, normal hours of work, rest breaks, allowances, penalty rates and long service leave would be banished under a scenario limiting "allowable matters" to wages, leave and dispute resolution.

The BCA is also calling for an end to minimum living wage cases before the Industrial Relations Commission.

The BCA says another round of workplace "reform" is necessary because "it is 10 years since the last one".

Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, stopped short of publicly endorsing the BCA proposals but conceded they represented "a good summary of the government's intentions".

John Robertson accused the BCA of extremism that short-changed ordinary Australians and the society they live in.

"The BCA argue that fairness has no role in the workplace and the only reason business operates is to maximise profits", he said.

"At the end of the day, the BCA agenda is for more contract work, longer working hours and less security for Australian families."

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