AT Laborís national conference last weekend, Kevin Rudd launched Laborís new industrial relations plan, Forward with Fairness. Itís a comprehensive plan we are inviting the Australian people to judge. Laborís decision to release its plan for a fairer workplace stands in stark contrast to the continuing deceit of the Howard Government on industrial relations (writes Julia Gillard).
The Howard Government deceived Australians before the previous election by not telling them of its plans for extreme and unfair industrial relations laws. It has deceived Australians about the impact of its system by refusing to release details of how John Howardís Australian Workplace Agreements are hurting Australian working families. There is also a complete refusal to release any economic modelling to support Government claims about the benefits of these laws.
The Government continues to deceive working Australians by refusing to come clean on how it intends to make its laws tougher if re-elected. And it is deceiving Australians with false claims about Laborís plans.
The Prime Minister and the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, have claimed that Laborís proposed new industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia, is unconstitutional. The Howard Government has also claimed that under Laborís system every new employee will be given a union membership form and that under Labor ďno ticket, no startĒ will be back.
Each of these claims is completely untrue. Letís set the record straight.
Labor is not re-regulating the workplace. Forward with Fairness gives employers and employees the freedom to negotiate the terms and conditions that best suit them. This will be achieved through a combination of collective agreements, awards and common law arrangements, a combination which presently covers about 90 per cent of Australian employees.
Laborís plan is based on a decent, but limited, safety net of legislated minimum conditions and new, simplified awards. Our system will not be a system that allows overtime, penalty rates and redundancy to be lost without negotiation and without compensation.
Laborís plan is not about union rights, it is about the rights of Australian working families to enjoy the benefits of the prosperity they help generate.
Under Labor, there will be no automatic right for unions to bargain on behalf of an entire workforce under our majority bargaining rules, no automatic right for unions to participate in collective enterprise bargaining, and our Fair Work Information Statement will tell new employees they have a right to choose whether or not to join a trade union. Indeed, some employers have said they are very keen for the new employees to know that they do not have to join the union.
Laborís plan is to ensure the new independent industrial umpire is accessible to employers and employees across Australia when they want information or need assistance. And despite the Governmentís desperate claims to the contrary, the structure and operation of Laborís Fair Work Australia will be in accordance with the Constitution.
Laborís plans to move forward with fairness have been criticised by unions and employers.
Labor has always understood that employers would prefer the Prime Ministerís Work Choices laws. After all, those laws have driven the pendulum radically away from the centre, towards the interests of employers and away from the interests of Australian working families. Labor does not apologise for creating a new balance.
But to those employers who are concerned about employment and productivity, Labor says study the facts, not the Howard Governmentís wild claims.
Hockey likes to boast about the 276,000 jobs that have been created since Work Choices was implemented. However, total employment growth for the year to March 2005, pre-Work Choices, was 50,000 higher at 327,400.
Total employment growth for the year to March 1995, after the introduction of Laborís industrial relations reforms by the Keating Labor government was 328,000. Australiaís productivity actually went backwards for the first six months following the commencement of Work Choices and is presently at just 1.5 per cent compared to a historical average of 2.3 per cent.
In truth, productivity grew by 3.2 per cent in the five years after Labor decentralised the labour market, and productivity grew by just 2.2 per cent in the five years after AWAs were introduced by Howard.
Free-market labour economist Mark Wooden said during his appearance on the ABCís 4 Corners in September 2005: ďThereís not a lot of evidence that individual contracts produce productivity ... the biggest gains for productivity still revolve around a system which is collective based.Ē
The Howard Government has also suggested that the declining number of industrial disputes in Australia can be attributed to Work Choices. Apart from being consistent with international trends, the fact remains industrial disputes fell by a greater proportion when Labor introduced enterprise-based bargaining in the early 1990s.
The Howard Government claims Australians on AWAs are always better off. However, statistical data and analysis of AWAs, both official and leaked, show very clearly these laws are ripping away basic conditions, such as penalty rates and overtime, from employees. Indeed, 44per cent of employees on AWAs lost all of the conditions the Prime Minister told them, in expensive taxpayer-funded advertising, would be protected by law.
As well as stopping the ripoff, Laborís policy introduces a new era of family-friendly working arrangements to give Australian parents the choice of having a parent at home with a new baby for the first two years of the babyís life.
While the Howard Government is steeped in the past, Laborís industrial relations policy is focused squarely on the future. Labor believes Australians do not have to choose between having a strong economy and fairness at work. Australians can have both, should have both and deserve both. Thatís moving Forward with Fairness.
Julia Gillard is the Opposition Deputy Leader and spokeswoman for employment and workplace relations.
Over to youÖ