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Industrial relations set for a shake up -

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Industrial relations set for a shake up

Reporter: Matt Peacock

KERRY O'BRIEN: There are few individual policy areas closer to the Prime Minister's heart than
industrial relations.

He's given it his close personal attention for many years and, but for frustration in the Senate,
would have gone a lot further with change in the workplace than his Government has been able to

Now, as well as pushing through those reforms that have been rejected by the Senate, Mr Howard is
being urged by business groups to implement an even more radical shake up in industrial relations -
one to further limit the power of unions and reshape the role of the industrial relations

MATT PEACOCK: When electrician Dave Funnell sacked an employee that he suspected of poaching a
lucrative contract, he never dreamt it would cost him $5,000 for unfair dismissal.

DAVE FUNNELL, ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR: There isn't a court in Australia that would have protected me
for what he did for me.

It was just unfair and I think the whole definition of fair and unfair in the workplace relations
has got to be redefined.

MATT PEACOCK: Australia's peak union body, though, says it's usually the other way around - workers
are dismissed over basic rights.

SHARAN BURROW, PRESIDENT, ACTU: If a staff member couldn't stand up against bullying or harassment,
couldn't raise issues about safe workplaces, or, indeed, couldn't request fair wages and conditions
without fear of being summarily dismissed, then that's not a workplace that most Australians would
say is a fair thing.

Yet that's a possibility.

MATT PEACOCK: But employers say that it's an all too common story.

Frustrated by red tape and regulations, they'd rather not hire if they can't also fire.

DAVE FUNNELL: A lot of small businesses will definitely be putting on more employees as soon as we
know there's some sort of protection from these unfair dismissals.

PETER HENDY, AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE & INDUSTRY: Well, it is very possible to see those laws
change and that would be good and that would be pro-employment.

I mean, we've got low unemployment now, a 23-year low, but at 5.6 per cent, that's still 600,000,
700,000 people on the dole queues and we'd like to get that down further.

SHARAN BURROW: I would challenge John Howard to do what he said he'd do on Saturday night, to
govern for all Australians, not just for business.

MATT PEACOCK: Forty-one times John Howard brought his unfair dismissal laws before the Senate and
41 times he was blocked.

Now the Senate's within Government grasp and employers are urging him to go further.

PETER HENDY: We still have six separate workplace relations systems in this country.

And that's silly.

We should be getting it down to one system and that should be advanced as soon as possible.

That will require a Senate majority, but that is something that we'll be arguing for.

DR JOHN BUCHANAN, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY: I think this is what will be interesting.

If the Government is trying to override the States, it might end up a messier situation than you
currently have.

MATT PEACOCK: Industrial relations expert Dr John Buchanan believes that Mr Howard may now
revolutionise the Australian workplace.

DR JOHN BUCHANAN: Australia is already seen as an out layer in the Western world when it comes to
industrial relations.

Employers can essentially pick and choose whether they negotiate with a union or not.

There is no other country in the world where that happens, not even New Zealand now.

So even before this election, Australia was a bit of a freak on the world stage.

If we break down the remaining edifice that we have, we will become a real social laboratory for
quite extreme free market ideas, I think.

MATT PEACOCK: Already, the building industry has been singled out for special attention.

Union organisers like Dan Murphy may soon find it much harder to enter a building site to sign up
new members.

DAN MURPHY, CFMEU ORGANISER: If you're not on site, you can't do much for the workers.

The right to be able to speak to your members is very important for any union.

It's a fundamental.

MATT PEACOCK: Also in the Government agenda, secret union ballots and independent contracts to be
excluded from the industrial relations system.

PETER HENDY: It is a very big opportunity.

If the Government actually does have a workable majority in the Senate, a lot can happen that would
significantly power the Australian economy on into the next 10 to 15, even up to 50 years.

SHARAN BURROW: What kind of Australia do we want?

That's the debate that we'll have in the Parliament and in the public.

The ACTU will be at the forefront of that debate and we would hope that whoever holds the balance
of power, whether it be Family First or whether it be the National Party, that the rights and roles
of people actually concern our lawmakers.

MATT PEACOCK: For decades, Mr Howard has urged radical workplace changes.

He's never had a better chance.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Matt Peacock with that report.

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