QTU president
Kevin Bates

President’s comment 10 May 2013

Will WorkChoices rise from the ashes?

In trying to distance the federal Coalition opposition from the stain of WorkChoices, which Australians clearly rejected in the 2007 federal election, Tony Abbott has repeatedly claimed that WorkChoices is “dead, buried and cremated”.

The phrase is overkill (pun intended), and disingenuous. The 9 May release of the Coalition’s industrial relations policy is couched in terms of “improving” the current ALP Government’s Fair Work laws, presumably in a bid to avoid being seen as extreme.

Yet the proposed changes smell strongly of WorkChoices. For example, the Coalition wants to “remove the ability to restrict the use of Labor’s Individual Flexibility Arrangements”, but doesn’t dare mention the phrase Australian Workplace Agreements. It wants to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission with its draconian powers, but also wants employers to be able to “bargain” just with themselves on greenfields agreements. It wants to restrict protected industrial action so it can only happen after there “have been genuine and meaningful talks between workers and business at the workplace”, while further restricting unions’ entry into those workplaces and putting nothing in place to oblige employers to engage in any meaningful discussions.

The very language in what is supposed to be a serious policy document is at times laughably biased: for example, the document says the Coalition will “provide better protection for members of Registered Organisations” so “that members’ money cannot be spent on prostitutes, used for personal holidays, or withdrawn from ATM’s (sic) to be spent on personal items”.

There is, however, nothing funny when these Coalition proposals are put together with IR legislation changes already happening in Queensland. A succinct analysis of these changes was published in The Courier-Mail on 10 May, written by Professor Graeme Orr from the University of Queensland. It is well worth a read. 

Kevin Bates