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."