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Government must hold fast against employer groups’ attack on workers’ rights

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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Government must hold fast against employer groups’ attack on workers’ rights, say unions The Government must ignore the chorus of business groups whose attack on workers’ rights continues despite evidence the Fair Work Act is working well for both employers and employees, say unions.

Unions have reaffirmed they will vigorously defend workers’ rights in the face of a continued campaign by employers to roll back the Fair Work Act in spite of a review that found the laws were working well.

The ACTU has published its reply to the review panel’s recommendations, ahead of the Government’s response. Unions urge the Government to focus on the panel’s findings that the fundamentals of the workplace laws were on track, ‘are working well and the system of enterprise bargaining underpinned by the national employment standards and modern awards is delivering fairness.’

ACTU President Ged Kearney welcomed a commitment by the Prime Minister that collective bargaining should be the foundation of Australia’s workplace system.

“As the Prime Minister told the Australian Industry Group conference on Monday night, future improvements to productivity will come from enterprise bargaining, not in the individual contracts that bosses continue to harp for in their pursuit to reduce pay and conditions,” Ms Kearney said.

“This shows the Government is listening and understands productivity growth will not come from slashing workers’ rights, but rather from empowering workers. The review confirmed the ACTU’s position that change in productivity growth patterns is not linked to workplace law, the number of days lost to industrial action under the Fair Work Act remains at historically low levels and wage growth is around its decade-long average.

“The review panel’s key findings were largely consistent with unions’ position and eroded the outdated and adversarial arguments put forward by employer groups. But this has not stopped their continued attack and we urge the Government to recognise any further changes to workplace laws should improve job security, rights and protections for the millions of people in insecure work, not hand more power to employers.”

But Ms Kearney said despite the review panel’s finding in support of the Act, several recommendations were inconsistent with its view and if adopted risked weakening the system.

Unions maintain their resistance to recommendations that would:

• Restrict proper access to dispute resolution including arbitration; • Restrict collective bargaining (including rights to take protected industrial action); • Undermine the right to organise and be represented by a union; • Expand the use or scope of individual flexibility arrangements; • Promote the use or scope of unfair individual contracts; or • Reduce unfair dismissal protections for Australian workers.

“If any changes are needed to the Fair Work Act, they should start with strengthening the bargaining system, with an activist role for Fair Work Australia where employers only pay lip service to the notion of collective bargaining and never have any intention of reaching agreement,” Ms Kearney said.

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