Coalition sense on IR

I imagine The Australian made this the first thing they told us about the new Deputy Prime Minister as a kind of negative point, but this is something that’s long been missing from the Coalition:

Mr McCormack upheld the importance of unfair dismissal laws to “protect workers”, ­reflecting on his decision to take action against the Riverina Media Group over his departure from The Daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga — a rural paper that he ­edited for a decade between 1992 and 2002 — ­declaring that he had been “wronged” by his former ­employers.

See the quotes around “protect workers”. There must be some notion that workers being wronged by their employer is so farfetched that it has no place within a government that is pro-market. So let me point out that being shafted by one’s employer is not exactly an unknown phenomenon and it’s a pleasure to see someone back inside the leadership of the Coalition who understands this. I worked for a quarter of a century as the Chief Economist for Australia’s national employer association in the middle of our industrial relations system – even presented the National Wage Case on three occasions – but it never crossed my mind that in arguing on behalf of business that I was acting on behalf of people who were always guaranteed to do what was ethically and morally right. You have no idea what rotten sods there are running businesses, although now that I think about it, I imagine most of you do.

Our unique system of industrial tribunals is in my view a large part of what has made Australia so economically and socially stable. The blind spot in John Howard’s period as PM was his war on our tribunals which in the end led to his introduction of WorkChoices as the core industrial relations legislation. Remember this?

In May 2005, Prime Minister John Howard informed the Australian House of Representatives that the federal government intended to reform Australian industrial relations laws by introducing a unified national system. WorkChoices was ostensibly designed to improve employment levels and national economic performance by dispensing with unfair dismissal laws for companies under a certain size, removing the “no disadvantage test” which had sought to ensure workers were not left disadvantaged by changes in legislation, thereby promoting individual efficiency and requiring workers to submit their certified agreements directly to Workplace Authority rather than going through the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. It also made adjustments to a workforce’s ability to legally go on strike, enabling workers to bargain for conditions without collectivised representation, and significantly restricting trade union activity. . . .

WorkChoices was a major issue in the 2007 federal election, with the Australian Labor Party (ALP) led by Kevin Rudd vowing to abolish it. Labor won government at the 2007 election and repealed the whole of the WorkChoices legislation by the Fair Work Act 2009.

That’s not to say there are no improvements to be made, but a return to WorkChoices is not one of them. Perhaps for a change someone has learned something from history. Good to see Michael McCormack take up his place and good luck to him.

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