Unions, ACCI criticise Abbott IR policy

AAP

A powerful union has slammed the federal opposition's industrial relations policy as a return to the "most extreme elements of the Howard government," but a retail lobby group say it doesn't go far enough.

Under the coalition's policy the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) - an industry watchdog - would be re-established, a move which has angered the Electrical Trades Union (ETU).

ETU assistant national secretary Allen Hicks described the ABCC as "a discriminatory body which stripped certain workers of basic legal rights."

He said there are also concerns that other elements of the Howard government's Work Choices laws could return.

But Australian Retailers Association chief Russell Zimmerman said more should be done to "improve workplace flexibility".

"The proposals are too modest because... not only do they retain the framework of the Gillard government's fair work laws, but also retain much of the content," Mr Zimmerman said in a statement.

"There are positives, particularly in the construction sector.

"However any sectors outside of this cannot wait four years for employment regulation reforms following the Productivity Commissioner review of the fair work system."

The Accommodation Association of Australia supports the policy.

"(The policy) promotes fair, productive and efficient workplaces which will lead to higher living standards, better pay and more jobs for Australians," the group's chief Richard Munro said in a statement.

Abbott policy does not go far enough: ACCI

A key industry group accused Mr Abbott of only "dipping his toe" into workplace relations, after the release of a policy they say does little for small business.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ACCI) said the opposition's industrial policy, released on Thursday, was "too cautious, too modest".

"Tony Abbott has dipped his toe in the necessary process of reforming Australia's employment laws but unfortunately, most of Australian industry would still be left saddled by the Gillard government's Fair Work laws even with this policy in place," ACCI chief Peter Anderson told reporters in Canberra.

Mr Anderson said the unionised sector would benefit from changes to union right of entry provisions, right to strike laws, and measures such as the crackdown of union corruption and thuggery in the building industry.

However, for small business he said there was not much to be excited about.

"There is no indication that Australia's small business community would be left with anything other than one sized fits all rules and the collective bargaining approaches that underpin the current fair work laws," Mr Anderson said.

"There is no prospect on the horizon of changes to unfair dismissal laws (and) there is no alternative proposals about the way in which penalty rates can be addressed and dealt with."

Mr Anderson was unimpressed with the coalition's pledge to have the Productivity Commission review the industrial relations system, saying small business should not have to wait three or four years "before they get their measure of industrial relations justice".

He also questioned Mr Abbott's push for a greater take-up of individual flexibility arrangements, saying it was not going to make "any material difference".

"It is a serious disappointment to the Australian business community that there is no real step taken in this policy to put individual agreement making back into the centre of the Australian industrial relations system," Mr Anderson said.

Shorten slams Abbott policy

Federal Employment Minister Bill Shorten wants to know what the coalition's industrial relations policy offers workers.

Mr Shorten told a Queensland Media Club lunch in Brisbane shortly after the policy was released that his main concern was what it offered workers.

"It's the first policy the opposition's tried to release on workplace relations since their disastrous Work Choices policy," he said.

"At the end of the day, workplace relations is not just all about labour regulation, it's about co-operative, productive relationships at work.

"So the real question for me is - what is in it for people ... have they ruled out attacking people's positions?"

He said lost time through industrial action was lower under Labor, while workplace productivity in the past seven quarters was up.

But most pleasingly, Thursday's unemployment figures for April showed the participation rate, or the number of people actively looking for work, had also increased.

"The market expectation was that there would only be 11,000 jobs created in April - well, let me tell you there have been 50,000 jobs created in April," he said.

Mr Shorten said there were more Australian men and women working full time now than in any other time in history.

Mr Shorten later told reporters in Brisbane that the government's industrial laws were working.

He said unemployment had fallen to 5.5 per cent and Labor had created 961,000 jobs since it came to office in 2007.

"The economy and jobs are working with the current laws," Mr Shorten said.

He said Mr Abbott's policy was short on detail in many areas.

"Today they have released a policy ... proposing to put individual contracts right back up the charts of workplace relations," Mr Shorten said.

"Tony Abbott's extreme workplace relations policies should send a shiver up the spine of every Australian worker."