IR policy to stamp out 'dodgy' unionists: Abbott

By a staff reporter

Tony Abbott has unveiled the coalition's workplace industrial relations policy, saying it would "stamp out" union corruption and impose tougher right of entry laws for workplaces.  

Speaking in Sydney, Mr Abbott said the coalition would re-establish the Howard-era Australian Building and Construction Commission and impose greater checks on registered organisations like unions and employer bodies.

He pledged to restore right of entry laws "that Prime Minister Julia Gillard promised back in 2007".

The Coalition's IR package would also see an increase in individual flexible agreements. 

"Importantly we want all workers to have access to individual flexibility arrangements, and we won't allow them to be excluded by enterprise bargaining agreements," Mr Abbott said.

He said the importance of productivity in enterprising bargaining would be re-emphasised under the Fair Work Act.

The act would be changed to ensure that if protected industrial action is to occur, the parties involved have been "talking first and striking later".

Mr Abbott said workers had nothing to fear from his policy, which would protect their pay and conditions and offer them access to flexibility arrangements.

"I want to assure all the workers of Australia - unionised and non-unionised - that they can trust their future in our hands," he said.

"This policy will, however, make life more difficult for militant building unions and dishonest union officials who continue to abuse their position.

"We make no apology for that."

Mr Abbott said there had been "example after example of rorts, rackets and even corruption" inside some important unions. 

He cited the cases of Health Services Union officials allegedly misusing member funds and the Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings in NSW.

"We need the same high standards of governance in unions as we expect in companies and that's why part of our changes will be to ensure that dodgy union officials face the same penalties as dodgy company officials," he said.

"The heart of our policy is ensuring that the rule of law operates in our workplace and that unions and other industrial organisations are run honestly and in the interest of our members," he said. 

Mr Abbott said he chose to release the policy four months before the election because it was a "fundamentally important".

"We want to protect workers' pay and conditions, we also want to maximise their opportunities to get good jobs," Mr Abbott said.

"In essence we will retain and improve the Fair Work Act."

The opposition leader also flagged a Productivity Commission review after the September poll to explore the party's industrial relations policy and formulate an improved policy position for the next election.

Mr Abbott said the IR policy was an important element in the coalition's plan to create a million new jobs in five years, and two million new jobs within a decade.

Unions accuse Abbott of planning return to WorkChoices

Unions have accused the coalition of trying to bring back controversial Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs).

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the coalition had put individual contracts back at the centre of its industrial relations policy.

Mr Abbott said the coalition will not re-introduce AWAs or weaken safety nets or cause any Australian worker to go backwards. 

"There won’t be another WorkChoices – it is dead, buried and cremated," Mr Abbott said.

"The past is the past and we will not go back to it."

More from Business Spectator


Please login or register to post comments

Comments Policy »
Lets put a figure on the table. It is what the middle class regards as acceptable remuneration for what is largely a desk job. Yesterday I visited a specialist. the fee including one injection was $380. I had a rather long consultation that lasted over twenty minutes. The specialist was running behind, but clearly from the number of people in the waiting room, aimed at a turnover rate of four patients per hour at $270 consultation fee, excluding any material services I rate that at between $750 and $1000 per hour. This interestingly enough conforms with the fees charged by mid range to senior lawyers at major law firms at between $600 and $1000 per hour (possibly up to $1200 for tax related matters), and barristers at around $1000 per consultation, or more. These are the remuneration figures that ordinary people have to compete with to access basic necesssities in life such as accommodation, let alone the poncey restaurants I see in the media. The chasm between remuneration levels in a market with limited supply is catastrophic. The middle class believes it is entitled to over FIFTY times the minimum wage. It is this disparity that is used to educate their children in private schools, to support them in house purchase against less financially endowed competitors, and to protect their progeny from the downward mobility that is often the just desert of their ability levels. So what is Abbott telling people according to this article? - Let's start with "We want to protect workers' pay and conditions, we also want to maximise their opportunities to get good jobs" - To protect our workers pay he would have to raise the base to some twenty five times it's present level, to at least make it up to a level where a working class couple can compete in purchasing power with a single middle class professional. His next leap into tortured logic is "The only people with anything to worry about from this policy are dodgy union officials and their supporters." - Well if he cannot fulfil his promise to protect the pay and conditions of working people - which means raising pay levels by factors of around thirty times - where else does he expect the worker to turn for honest and competent empowered protection? In the light of the obvious clash he is inciting, what is Abbott's answer other than to seek to propaganda bash and degrade Union officals, and the Trade Unions and membership they serve? In the field of litigation lawyers are taught "Never ask a question in Court to which you do not already know the answer" - Doctor's are taught "Do no Harm." Politicians should perhaps learn the rules "Never start a fight you cannot possibly win" and "You cannot squeeze a lemon that is already dry." As for journalists perhaps the rule should be "Always ensure a society is properly warned of dangers before it is too late to head them off." As so many people have pointed out - often despairingly - in Business Spectator's pages - our media has left us set on a path that could likely end in nightmare; Right Wing journalist are fuelling that potential hooror To put it bluntly Abbott's delusion, which I sometimes see echoed by the Spectators more Right Wing writers is that he can solve it all by legislation aimed at regulating and restricting the representatives of ordinary people. What happens when at the behest of their members the entire movement - an entire class in fact, now fortified by a collapsing middle class, tells him and his media cronies to shove their regulations where they best fit. The rule of law breaks down when what law demands is impossible, when it reduces those ruled by it to penury No one in their right mind wants the conflict the media and the Conservative Right are inciting.
Interesting response, Phil, given that it has been the "union" of the medical specialists that has restricted supply of specialists, creating the "limited supply that is catastrophic". It is human nature to exploit the market for greatest advantage. Would your union extract 30 times the base level of pay for their members, leaving the rest of the community to suffer, if they had the opportunity? Past history suggests that some unions would do this. It is time to stop looking for unions to sort out inequality: they are poorly equipped for this task. I agree that we need a more level playing field, where people are paid a reasonable, but not excessive, premium for their skills. I doubt that the union-style approach will be able to do this for the whole society. It is more likely that government regulation will do a better job than self-serving "unions" of whatever stamp, whether middle-class or working-class. Certainly we do not need the complete collapse of our economy, which will be the outcome if unions manage to achieve the 30-times base rate pay rises you are calling for.
From your comments, Phil, it would appear you are assuming that everything that doctor you visited charges in fees goes straight in his, or her, back pocket. How about the rent on the premises at which you visited him/her? They often have 2 or 3 offices to pay rent on if they also visit rural and regional areas. What about the wages and salaries paid to his staff, which often includes the practice's nurse? What about his malpractice insurance and workers comp premiums, electricity bills and the 101 other costs involved in running his/her "business"? It would appear that you are multiplying the doctors consultation rate by an hourly figure and thus putting the doctor's income at something in the 1.5 to 2 million range. Based on the figures you quoted it would be nowhere near that after taking into account all the costs of running the "business" that is a doctor's practice. I don't seek to defend doctors, or other highly paid professionals, but I do take exception to the way you just look at how things may appear on the surface and give no consideration to what costs are involved to provide you with the treatment you received. I suppose that would blunt the impact of your argument though. Wouldn't it?
I think the irony to your argument is the ALP deregulated the labour market by regulating it.
Abbott the protector of union members from corrupt leadership and misuse of funds! This should be a Labor position. No mention here of use of union member funds to help union executives win political elections.
No I am not calling for a thirty times increase in wages but I do think we should recognise that much higher tax rates should be applied to incomes over around two hundred thousand. Furthermore restricted entry into the professions should be abolished, and entry educational requirements made more rational. Currently because of the HSC system a person can be denied entry into medicine because of his inability to write the required article on Shakespeare or her lack of the required knowledge of the Roman Grassi period. Suitable High School graduates should be granted entry via a relevant foundation course and a class neutral entry board. Currently entry is loaded vastly in favour of the Private Schools whose teachers often have a major role in setting and marking the HSC. Many Universities have absolutely no system of interviewing candidates. Entry based on exam percentages and school principal assessment alone is ridiculous. Would a principal give a bad assessment to a family where the fees have paid of over a quarter of a million dollars over the years? Unions draw strength from the sheer brutality of the class system. There is no mechanism for furthering equality or equal opportunity except advocacy backed by threat. I find this appalling, but that is how it is. The rule of law is admitted to be selective even by our major legal bodies which express great concern at its erosion by governments of both persuasion. I'll tell you how it works - the Government - Sate or Federal - passes benevolent legislation and then either fails to institute mechanism for its enforcement or alternatively grants the Public Service executives arbitrary power to select which cases they will enforce. There is, in conclusion, only two mechanisms that can evade the necessity of gigantic wage increases - one is price control of essentials - most especially including rents. the other is provision of services that include dignified Public Housing To put it simply Abbott's entire industrial policy is impractical and dysfunctional - let alone inflammatory -without a massive enhancement of the very welfare state he is so keen to dismantle Abbott and his Right wing supporters may well claim - and even believe - they are merely "rationalising" society, but in the book of the dispossessed they are little more than bushrangers and thieves targeting people so reduced in prosperity that they have nothing to deliver to the Highwayman that seeks to rob them - except perhaps what equity they may still have in the roof above their family's head. It is that bad - and it is time you realised it in the middle class fantasy world
Thank you, Phil, for taking on board some of my comments, in particular the impracticality of a gigantic wage increase across the board (although later in the piece you indicate that you still want this). I am sorry you have so little faith in the education system, particularly the State system. I can only speak for myself, but all my children went through the State system, and I am very happy with the education they received. During this process, there were a couple of points where we believed that it was necessary to intervene on our childrens' behalf, but in both cases it was sorted (one case reluctantly, the other willingly). I accept that not all education experiences are as happy, and I agree with you that we certainly should be trying to maintain equality of opportunity for all our children. One university entrance, I have two public school teacher friends, and both of them are involved in marking the HSC, and in no case that I know of is entry to university at all influenced by a school principal's assessment. In regard to your claim that the so-called Australian Class System is brutal, it is hard to reconcile this with the Howard years of government, when real wages significantly increased. Contrast the record of increasing wages during the Howard years with current union advertising, like the OneVoice web site that implies it is only the direct intervention of the union that it holding back a move to a $5 hour wage rate. What is the evidence for this bit of hyperbole? If this where "advocacy backed by threat" is working well? I love your bit of rhetoric at the end of your piece: if only I had your imagination. All I can say in response is that union leaders seem to want to believe their own propaganda, thinking themselves to be indispensible to the ordinary worker in the face of bushrangers, highwaymen and thieves. Perhaps this is the case, and the members believe that their union fully justifies the fees it charges for its service. Alternatively, wouldn't it be better if we looked to a government body like Fair Work to defend the rights of workers and deal with the bushrangers, highwaymen and thieves, where these masquerade as employers?
Abbott is a gutless wonder. He'll eventually back down on his PPL scheme (not because it is a stupid thought bubble) just because Uncle Rupert told him to. That will effectively leave him with no policy position. Never mind... Rupert probably has that all sorted too.
Mark, you can remain anonymous, if you wish, but please, if you want to be so, don't call someone a gutless wonder. You know, pots and kettles and all that.
Who said BS does not let diversified opinions been aired? IMO Unions are needed for the work context and sometimes produced some great vision with Hawke about China(albeit its famous technology kills jobs is was not its best remark) and Keating did not produce the Super that feeds the market loop alone. But yes abusing the system is out of question. Wont change my mind, cant vote for Abbott unless he comes with something serious for seniors and/ or WA infrastructures, dont think he has the skills for that, not even his advizers.