Eric Abetz and labour relations

The dog that didn’t bark in the night over the past two years has been industrial relations. Labour relations has been an ongoing sore, relentlessly undermining our prospects and ruining opportunities to raise living standards at every turn. Yet these past two years, conservative government though it may have been, other than a brief wrangle at Qantas, which could have been a massive disaster but in fact wasn’t, I don’t think I can recall a single IR dispute of any consequence.

I have to tell you that I think much of the credit goes to our Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz. In what is the most fractious part of our economic structure, he understood the necessity of working with the grain and not against it. His quiet approach allowed a downwards real wage adjustment to go on behind the scenes, with the most amazing, but largely unnoticed improvement in our labour market having gone on, even with the flat rate of growth in GDP.

Today we find this in The AFR: Abetz accused of restacking Fair Work.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz has made a series of conservative appointments to the Fair Work Commission, using his expected last days in federal cabinet to counter-balance union appointments to the tribunal made by the former Gillard government.

Industrial relations lawyer Tanya Cirkovic, a former legal partner of Liberal Party identity Michael Kroger, and Christopher Platt, who worked at the Australian Mines and Metals Association were appointed commissioners.

Both Mr Platt, currently employee relations manager at BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam project, and Ms Cirkovic have addressed the conservative HR Nicholls Society.

The last bit does make me laugh since I have also addressed the HR Nicholls Society whose main aim in life has been to rid us of the IR Commission which, in spite of the all too regular criticisms from the HRN and others, has been the main obstacle to union power in this country. If Senator Abetz is removed from the Ministry, just keep the following in mind:

The appointments came as Labor and the Greens denied Senator Abetz a rare legislative victory on industrial relations by stalling the passage of proposed changes to the federal workplace laws changes.

Senator Abetz has reached agreement with six senate crossbenchers to support changes to the Fair Work Act, including new limits on union bargaining power on new projects.

But Labor and the Greens organised a long list of speakers on the bill, ensuring the vote on the changes was delayed until at least the next sitting of federal parliament in three weeks.

[Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan] O’Connor said he would spend the parliamentary break seeking to convince the crossbench to reverse their in-principle position and not support the changes proposed by the government.

If it is jobs you are interested in and a reduction in union power, that is the way to have done it. It will be a sorry day for us all if Eric is removed from cabinet and IR is parcelled out to someone less skilled than he is.

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