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White paper not an answer to the anti-employment IR Reform Act

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John Howard

NEWS RELEASE Member for BennelongShadow Minister for Industrial Relations & Manager of Opposition Business in the HouseIR 014/94WHITE PAPER NOT AN ANSWER TO THE ANTI-EMPLOYMENT IR REFORM ACTToday's White Paper was doomed from the day the Industrial Relations Reform Bill was introduced into the Parliament.It is absurd to pass laws which reinforce disincentives to employment one month and then introduce a White Paper purporting to reduce unemployment the next.There is nothing in the White paper to correct or offset the rigidities, disincentives and employment liabilities that characterise Australian workplaces.The White Paper addresses symptoms, not causes. Large amounts of money spent on training are not a substitute for a sound industrial relations policy that promotes the mutual interest of employers and employees.When it comes to explaining the contribution industrial relations reform will make to reducing unemployment, it has nothing to offer but flaccid and exaggerated rhetoric.It says (pp.26 and 28) that the Government aims to see 80 per cent of employees in direct bargains before the end of 1996, which would be nearly double the present proportion.Mr Keating was predicting back in December 1992 that 50 per cent of federal award employees would be covered by the middle of 1993.It's now mid-1994 and we still haven't got to 50 per cent.It says (p.26) that the Government will be aiming for high quality agreements where wage increases are the product of genuine improvements in productivity and enterprise flexibility.believe the commitment to productivity when I see the Government oppose attempts by the metal trades unions and the CFMEII to turn individual agreements into the basis of an industry wages round.There is nothing in the White Paper (and there was nothing in the Reform Act) to address the criticism of the Green Paper (p.61): "The impact of workplace bargaining on overall productivity levels so far has been marginal and disappointing. As yet, only a minority of workplaces are covered by agreements. Also, most agreements do not totally replace award coverage."COMMONWEALTHPARLIAMENTARY LIBRARYMICAH

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Instead we get the pious hope that (p.29) over time the vast bulk of the workforce will turn to locally negotiated enterprise agreements, rather than depending on movements in awards for increases in pay.

This ignores the fact that employers have noted with dismay that the first enterprise flexibility agreement has led to unionisation of a non-unionised shop.

Few employers will risk the same result.

The OECD and the IMF each said last month that Australia has a long way to go in the area of industrial relations reform if it was to remove obstacles to employment and reduce unemployment.

Unfortunately the criticisms are still valid.

CANBERRA 4 May 1994