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‘Chill down the spine’: PM’s plan blasted as WorkChoices 2.0

·4-min read
Scott Morrison has announced industrial relations reform. The last time a federal government tried wholesale workplace reform it triggered rallies against it. Images: Getty
Scott Morrison has announced industrial relations reform. The last time a federal government tried wholesale workplace reform it triggered rallies against it. Images: Getty

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dumped his government’s controversial union-busting bill while announcing industrial relations reform as part of the government’s economic recovery plan.

Morrison said the Ensuring Integrity Bill, which was an attempt to crack down on alleged union misconduct, would be shelved as a sign of “good faith”.

The bill would have cleared the way for unions or union officials to be deregistered if the Federal Court found them guilty of inappropriate conduct.

Morrison also flagged industrial reform changes.

“Our industrial relations system has settled into a complacency of unions seeking marginal benefits and employers closing down risks, often by simply not employing anyone,” he said.

“The system has lost sight of its purpose to get the workplace settings right, so the enterprise - the business - can succeed, so everybody can fairly benefit from their efforts and their contributions.

“It is a system that has, to date, retreated to tribalism, conflict, and ideological posturing. No side of that debate has been immune from those maladies. This will need to change.”

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter will head up a “job-making agenda” which will include discussions between employers, employee representatives, industry groups and government.

Across five working groups, Porter will aim at achieving award simplification and changes to the way enterprise agreements are made. The groups will also look at how casuals operate within the workplace system, wage theft and union conduct.

The five working groups will carry out discussions until September.

“The purpose is simple and honest - to explore and hopefully find a pathway to sensible, long-lasting reform, with just one goal - make jobs,” Morrison said.

“To maximise the opportunity for a genuine course of negotiation, and compromise and cooperation that is vital to create jobs and chart an economic path back to what is mutually beneficial prosperity.”

‘WorkChoices 2.0’: Scott Morrison faces challenges

This is the first time in around 13 years that a national government has embarked on a broad campaign of industrial relations reform, following the politically damaging WorkChoices program championed by the Howard government in 2006.

WorkChoices was unpopular as it allowed for businesses with fewer than 100 employees to dismiss workers without facing unfair dismissal claims, among other changes.

While Morrison today said he has been “genuinely heartened” by how unions, employers, employees and the government have worked to keep Australians in jobs, he said the working groups may not reach a consensus by the September deadline.

However, deputy Labor leader Richard Marles described the industrial relations reform campaign as something that would “send a chill down the spine of every Australian worker”.

“We welcome the shelving of the Ensuring Integrity Bill. Sure, it's a good thing to get people around the table. But I can tell you there's a lot more to industrial relations than simply booking the room,” he said.

He said there was “a lot unsaid” about the reform plan and called for Morrison to be clear about what simplifying awards will mean.

Australians also described it as a return to WorkChoices.

“Award simplification? Sounds like WorkChoices in a new media release,” Twitter user William Constable said.

“Seems to me like Scott Morrison’s JobMaker announcement is really just WorkChoices 2.0,” added Emma Brown.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus said the ACTU will measure industrial relations reform on whether it gives “working people better job security” and if it leads workers to “receiving their fair share of the country’s wealth”.

“The work of job creating will involve much more than industrial law changes and we will continue to put forward ideas on Australia can create good, secure jobs for workers,” she said.

“The Ensuring Integrity legislation is symbolic of the politics of the past, we welcome it being withdrawn.

“We will make sure the voice of working people continues to be at the table, as we have been throughout the crisis, as we rebuild the economy.”

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