The Guardian 2 March, 2005

A fair go...for the boss

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has signed up to the Business Council of Australia's assault on workers' rights and their trade unions. As state Labor ministers vowed to oppose the Howard government's plan to take over state industrial relations systems using corporations law, Andrews let fly at awards, the independent umpire and the minimum wage.

In a major speech in Melbourne last week outlining the government's agenda for deregulating industrial relations, Andrews claimed that ideas of "fairness" in workplaces were "misconceived" and that "... an emphasis on fairness only leads to regulatory excess and inefficiency".

Andrews' vision of the workplace in five years time would have no place for "third parties" meaning trade unions and industrial relations commissions.

"Decisions as to the type of employment arrangements entered into, be they part-time, full-time, permanent or casual, or contractually based, would be left to the parties themselves at the workplace level", Andrews said.

He went on to endorse the big business plan to wring more out of working families by:

  • Undertaking a hostile take-over of all state industrial relations systems that currently cover about half the Australian workforce

  • Eliminating basic award protections, including long service leave, jury service leave, notice of termination, and superannuation provisions

  • Scrapping unfair dismissal laws, and

  • Abolishing the role of the independent Australian Industrial Relations Commission in setting minimum wages and conditions and settling industrial disputes.

    But Andrews was sent a clear message that any take-over would take a messy constitutional fight, with state industrial relations ministers meeting in Sydney to coordinate their response.

    Andrews is also reintroducing special legislation covering the building and construction industry which was knocked back by the Senate last year.

    In this case there will be a third party an Australian Building and Construction Commission to police worksites.

    The legislation requires unions to hold secret ballots prior to industrial action; outlaw pattern bargaining; a mandatory three-week "cooling off period" after two weeks of industrial action; and penalties of $110,000 for unions and $22,000 for individual workers for engaging in unlawful industrial action.

    It will be retrospective, possibly dating back to last year, with a view of making it enforceable prior to the government's gaining a majority in the Senate in July.

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