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Canberra, transcript of doorstop interview: car industry dispute, government intervention in the AIRC.

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Car Industry Dispute; Government intervention in the AIRC Doorstop Interview, Canberra

ABBOTT: The Government’s position is that the Tri Star dispute is a strike against the national interest and it should be ended as soon as possible. Already we have 12,000 workers stood down because of it and if it continues there will be many thousands more workers stood down before the week is out.

So, the strike is against the national interest and should end. The Government will be intervening in the commission this afternoon at 3 o’clock in support of a return to work order should Commissioner Redmond declare that the bargaining period is suspended or terminated.

We’ll be doing this because we support worker’s right to work. We support the right of the 12,000 workers currently stood down to get back to work, to earn a decent living and to contribute to a better motor industry in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Is there anything more the Government can do other than seek to intervene in the Industrial Commission?

ABBOTT: Well, I think we’ve made it very clear that we think it is a strike against the national interest. We think it’s a politically motivated strike in favour of a politically motivated Manusafe scheme. And, the best thing we can do is indicate to the world at large and to the workers who are currently stood down that we are supporting their right to work and that is what we are doing in the Commission.    JOURNALIST: (inaudible)..intervene in the IRC on a strike action?

ABBOTT: Well, under the Government’s Workplace Relations Act we have the power to intervene when we believe that industrial action is against the national interest and certainly this is against the national interest.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Government is setting a partisan precedent here intervening on the employer side?

ABBOTT: But, we are intervening in support of all those stood down workers who want to work, who deserve to work, who are entitled to work but who can’t work because of this politically motivated strike at one company.

JOURNALIST: But (inaudible)..Commission between the employees of Tri Star and the employer…

ABBOTT: The very reason why we have these provisions in the Workplace Relations Act is for situations like this. The Government can’t stand idly by when a dispute at one small manufacturer is bringing an entire industry, a vital industry for Australia’s national interest to a grinding halt.

JOURNALIST: How much sway will the Government have before the IRC or will it just be another interested party?

ABBOTT: That’s a matter for the IRC to decide but, certainly we don’t lightly do these things. And, the fact that fact that the Federal Government is going before the commission to argue that this strike should end because its against the national interest and workers should return to work as soon as possible is obviously something that the commission will take into due account.

JOURNALIST: The union is suggesting that you are only inflaming this dispute.

ABBOTT: Well, I didn’t start this strike. This strike was started by the metal workers’ union presumably with the support of Kim Beazley and Simon Crean. Now, I didn’t start the strike. I’m not continuing the strike. I think it should end as quickly as possible.

JOURNALIST: If the union doesn’t obey the IRC will the (inaubile).. further action?

ABBOTT: If the union refuses to adhere to orders made by the Commission well, then there are further steps that can be taken. But, my hope and expectation is that if the Commission makes the appropriate ruling then the union will see sense and accept the umpire’s verdict.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible..)

ABBOTT: No, in my tenure as Minister we have certainly appeared on numerous occasions before the Commission to argue the national wage case…

JOURNALIST: (inaudible..)

ABBOTT: We also intervened in the Commission in support of OneTel workers. Where we believe the national interest justifies the Government is prepared to intervene in the Commission.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible..) against the national interest. Define the national interest.

ABBOTT: Well, plainly it is in the national interest that the motor industry continue working. The last thing that we need to see is an industry employing directly some 50,000 people, contributing some $16 billion to GDP, contributing some $4 billion a year to exports, grinding to a halt because of this strike at one manufacturer. It is plainly in the national interest that we keep the motor industry working and that’s why we’re intervening.

JOURNALIST: Why should the taxpayer continue to fund 100 per cent of government employee entitlements scheme?

ABBOTT: This Government is absolutely committed to protecting worker entitlements and the interesting thing about this dispute at Tri Star is that it’s not really about worker entitlements, it’s about union power. It’s about a union controlled fund that doesn’t protect existing entitlements but which tries to create new ones. So, let’s make it very clear this Government supports the protection of worker

entitlements. Now, what you should try to do in protecting these entitlements is first of all, you don’t want to cost jobs; secondly, you don’t want to give people an incentive to ramp up entitlements; and third, you don’t want to confiscate the capital of ordinary working businesses. Our scheme satisfies those criteria and none of the other schemes that have been put on the table do.

JOURNALIST: And, it solely funded by taxpayers?

ABBOTT: That’s correct, that’s correct. Let me say that the schemes that have been put in place as alternatives to our scheme would be much, much, much more expensive. Our scheme is a safety net scheme. It’s affordable and it is protecting the entitlements of workers who lose their jobs and whose employers are unable to pay their entitlements.

JOURNALIST: Would you encourage all employers nationally to reject the Manusafe (inaudible…)?

ABBOTT: I’m not generally speaking in the business of giving gratuitous advice to people. But, certainly the Australian Industry Group believes that the Manusafe model is quite oppressive and unfair. They believe that it essentially amounts to the confiscation of the working capital of businesses in a fund that is completely controlled by the unions. They think that the Federal Government scheme is a much better way of protecting entitlements than Manusafe.

JOURNALIST: Are you disappointed that Tri Star are offering to buy insurance to protect entitlements?

ABBOTT: No, not at all. And, I think that was a sign of Tri Star acting in good faith and I can’t understand why the union hasn’t been prepared to talk to Tri Star about this way of resolving the issue. If this really was about entitlements, the union would have accepted Tri Star’s offer I imagine.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible…) open the floodgates though for an impost on employers to go and buy insurance?

ABBOTT: Well, as I said that’s a matter for individual employers to decide. But, certainly buying insurance is a much different option than contributing to the Manusafe accumulation fund. My understanding is that Tri Star thinks it can buy insurance for a comparatively modest percentage of its payroll. By contrast, Manusafe is an accumulation fund that when fully operational will soak up 20 per cent of payroll. Now, if employers are going to be hit with an additional impost of 20 per cent of payroll that is going to cost thousands of jobs in the motor industry and tens of thousands of jobs in industry at large. And, that’s the last thing that anyone should be supporting at the moment.


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