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Sheraton Towers, Southgate, Melbourne, 20 February 1998: transcript of doorstop [MUA; National wage case]

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JOURNALIST: .... (Inaudible) ...

REITH: Well, they are operating true to form, there is no doubt about that they are entirely predictable, their denial of Australia's poor productivity, their denial of the rorts and the 'rip-offs' is par for the course, but the union has been like that for as long as anybody can remember and that is sort of part of the problem, they just can't change, they cannot see the reality that we cannot go on the way we've going.

So in terms of the reaction from the MUA I expect absolutely no change whatsoever. I think I can fairly predict what John Coombs will say this week, the following week, and the month after, and that is going to continue to be the case as this dispute unfolds.

JOURNALIST: Do you support Patricks ... (inaudible) ...

REITH: Well they are entitled to use the law as they see fit.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it could provide a real life ... (Inaudible) ...

REITH: Well, certainly it was a major loss to the union that their appeal was dismissed before the Commission yesterday, and this is another loss for the union in what will obviously be a series of protracted legal disputes.

JOURNALIST: How damaging do you think this interim injunction could be for the MUA?

REITH: I honestly don't know, I've just not had an assessment of the statement of claim, or the particular result. I don't expect to until today. Perhaps, hopefully.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that Patricks ... (inaudible) ..

REITH: No, I don't think so. I mean, there is no basis for saying that. I mean, any more than it was inflammatory for the MUA to appeal against the granting of the 166(a) Certificate. No the parties are entitled to take legal action whatever that may be and that's hardly inflammatory. And the people who are being inflammatory are the MUA who are taking industrial action.

Mr Coombs said at the start of this week, that if he wanted to take illegal industrial action, then he would. No you can't get any more inflammatory than one of the parties saying that they act beyond the law if they feel like it.

Now the MUA, that's always been their attitude, but it's an attitude that's unacceptable to the Australian community.

I think this week, what you are seeing is the MUA are losing control of their own management of their position in this dispute and that of course ultimately undermines their, what little standing they have left in the Australian community.

JOURNALIST: But have we reached a situation now where the only way that you are going to beat the MUA is to hit them in their financial pocket?

REITH: Well, it is not a matter of hitting the MUA. I think the point in the end is that the MUA should be back at work, and they should all go and take a Valium something.

JOURNALIST: Can you see an end to this dispute? ... (inaudible) ...

REITH: Well, there will be an end to this dispute, but I don't have a crystal ball.

JOURNALIST: ... (inaudible) ...

REITH: I mean the MUA is entitled as a union to exist and people are entitled to join the MUA. Now John Coombs would have you believe that the MUA existence is under threat. It is no more under threat, than is the existence of the CFMEU, of the AWU, of the FSU, or which ever other union you want to mention. What is under threat is their capacity to run Australia's ports. That is under threat, there's no two ways about that. They don't won't run them well. They run them for their own benefit to the expense of everybody else, so clearly, with the Farmers' setting up operation in Melbourne and perhaps elsewhere, I mean, ultimately we are going to have a labour force prepared to work on a reasonable community standard and provide a reliable service.

And that is a major threat to the MUA's monopoly control their is no doubt about that, but, if people want to be in the MUA in a years time or five years time then good luck to them.

JOURNALIST: The MUA declared yesterday on the docks .... (inaudible) role call. Two strikes in three day ... (inaudible) .. When do you think this will come to an end?

REITH: Well, let's see as matter unfold.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about the National Wage Case Submission?

REITH: Briefly you can.

JOURNALIST: The Government has put a submission that will restrict greatly the numbers who get a safety net increase. Does that mean that the guarantee that no worker will be worse off doesn't apply because in real terms many workers will miss out on a real term increase?

REITH: Well, the promises we made before the last election have been legislated and what that promise was related to was the protection provided to people as they move from an award to an agreement, that they would not be disadvantaged by that process.

As far as the Living Wage Case is concerned, our policy is that the minimum wage should be focussed as a safety net in the system and that's the submission that we have made to the Commission.

Similarly, last year we also proposed to the Commission that there be a limit on the extent to which they granted award increases right through the system. For example, last year we did not think that there should be a safety net increase for somebody on $45 or $50,000. Our view is that they should sit down and negotiate an increase with their employer and that submission would under-pin the agreement making policy position which the Government has. So what we've done this year is consistent with our Submission last year, we have tightened it up a bit that's true, but it's consistent with the new modern roles that we see for the Commission.

JOURNALIST But with 30 per cent of workers on award rates, that means a number will miss out on any pay increase.

REITH: Well, the reality is that the submission that we made last year and this year, is the best proposition for low paid workers, that we've seen for many, many years. I mean, if you go back to the previous $8 advocated by the Labor Party, in their submission to the Commission. The end result of that, was that workers were worse off in real terms.

Under us, under our first submission, and the $10 granted by the Commission, low paid workers were actually better off. They have more dollars in their pocket after inflation and they will have more dollars in their pocket after inflation if this submission is successful.

This is a bonanza compared to Labor's high unemployment and falling real wages. Now, the reason that we've made this submission, is that we want to preserve the agreement making options and the reason we want to do that is because the statistics show you, that if you can encourage people into agreement making, they get even more money in their pockets and the businesses can afford to pay it.

So this is a very good deal for low paid, it's a fair deal and it gives them the chance of earning more, which is our policy. The alternative, really is a pathway to higher inflation, higher unemployment and low real wages. Which is why we rejected Labor's scheme and why the new scheme has already been successful in the objectives we set for it.

Thank you.