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Opposition Deputy Leader discusses ALP industrial relations policy; and flexibility in employment agreements.

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Thursday 17 May 2007

Opposition Deputy Leader discusses ALP industrial relations policy; and flexibility in employment agreements


TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Opposition says it will allow ind ividual Australian Workplace Agreements, struck just before the election, to run until 2013 if Labor wins office. 


The deal only relates to contracts struck just before the polls. All other AWA's would cease at their expiry dates. 


From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports that Labor is looking at new ways of accommodating flexibility in employment agreements, and ways that workers can get out of AWA's if they choose to. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor's been under pressure from the mining industry and big business in general, to safeguard Australian workplace agreements, or at least offer them a new type of individual contract with the flexibility of the AWA's.  


Industrial Relations Spokeswoman and Deputy Leader Julia Gillard says Labor's policy could see workers remain on AWA's all the way out to 2013. 


JULIA GILLARD: These agreements can be for as long as five years, and obviously, we have an election to fight and win, and should we win that election, then we will need some time to legislate for Labor's new industrial relations system.  


But the time of transition, if the worker is on an AWA and they are happy to remain on that agreement for the balance of it's term, then they will be able to do so. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But happy is the operative word. 


JULIA GILLARD: You are right to identify that there are many Australian workers who have been shoved below award conditions by AWA's. 


Indeed we know from leaked statistics, 44 per cent of all Australians on AWA's have stripped away from them, all of the award conditions Mr Howard said would be protected by law.  


Now, we've got to balance up in respect of those workers their need for fairness with the certainty that business needs to get on with its job.  


We are consulting about those issues at the moment and we'll make an announcement at an appropriate time. But the consultation is continuing and will continue for several weeks. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: You are inclined to give some workers an escape clause from AWA's. 


JULIA GILLARD: What I've just said is all I'm going to say at this stage, we are in consultations. We want to balance up the need for fairness to workers who have been hurt by Mr Howard's Australian Workplace Agreement with the need for business certainty. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Back to the mining industry, the peak lobby group, the Mines and Metals Association, says it welcomes Labor's acknowledgement of the AWA issue, but still believes flexibility in workplace agreements, especially in the resources sector, is important.  


The industry says it looks forward to seeing the nuts and bolts of Labor's plan to accommodate flexibility. 


Business argues that Labor's policy of statutory individual contracts, underpinned by the award safety net system doesn't recognise the way industry works.  


Julia Gillard says AWA's will go, but is offering some movement on awards. 


JULIA GILLARD: We recognise that there are problems in parts of the current award system, where awards are too prescriptive and don't mirror the way that work is now performed in what is increasingly a 24 hour a day, seven day a week economy, and that is certainly true of our mining sector.  


So when we're looking at those awards there is a modernisation task to do, and when that task is done, it does mean that if a mining industry wanted to proceed relying on common law contracts, that those common law contracts could be very flexible indeed. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Leaked internal ALP polling shows swinging voters have a cool response to the Government's WorkChoices laws, giving strong backing for Kevin Rudd's stance.  


So does the opposition feel any imperative to accommodate big business? 


JULIA GILLARD: We're talking to business, not because we feel the need to accommodate in that sense.  


We feel the need to get the policy right, in the national interest. We want to be consulting with business, to make sure that the fine details of Labor's policy are right in the national interest. 


TONY EASTLEY: Labor's Julia Gillard ending that report from Alexandra Kirk.