Over the past few months Kevin Rudd has been progressively releasing the industrial relations policy of the Labor Party. Contrary to previous statements where Rudd said he would be tearing up Work Choices, it seems now he will only be tinkering at the edges of the legislation and retaining significant parts of it.
Whilst Rudd’s policy is marginally better than Howard’s, it makes a clear attack on every workers fundamental right – the right to strike. Under a Rudd government workers will only be allowed to take protected industrial action during a “bargaining period”. This is only when workers are negotiating a new enterprise agreement.
All other forms of industrial action will be deemed illegal. The only real weapon that workers have is their ability to withdraw their labour. Everything that the union movement has won in the past was won by workers going on strike. In many cases this was done illegally and it seems that under an ALP government this will have to continue.
Rudd has said that he will abolish Australian Workplace Agreements but since then has come under extreme pressure from big business especially in the mining sector. Rudd’s has made it clear to the mining bosses that he is no threat to their profits. He told them that he will ensure that ‘flexibility’ is maintained through the use of common law individual agreements. It has been shown in recent weeks that these agreements can also be used to cut wages and conditions. Rudd’s wife, Therese Rein, who is a multi millionaire business owner, in fact favours these over awards and collective agreements.
Other aspects to Rudd’s policy include mandatory secret ballots before any strike action and outlawing pattern bargaining. The ALP will reinstate unfair dismissal laws but only after workers serve a “probation” period. The period will be 12 months for workers in businesses with 15 employees or less and 6 months for workers in businesses with over 15 employees.
In reality Rudd’s IR policy is an absolute disgrace. There is also nothing in it that is good news for casual workers. In fact as some employer groups have stated these policies will only encourage further casualisation. Employers are already saying that if they can not lock workers into low paid jobs through AWAs, and if they can not sack full time employees at their whim, they will leave people working for long periods as casuals.
If Labor was serious about looking after working people they would restore the right to strike, support pattern bargaining and make it illegal to sack any worker unfairly. They would also develop policy to look after the almost 1 in 3 workers who are currently employed as casuals and living with absolutely so security in their lives.
Rudd’s IR policy is just a taste of what a Labor government would be like in power. The differences are more of style than substance. The Labor Party is no alternative to the Liberals, in reality they are just another party of big business. Working people through their unions and community groups need to start the discussion about genuine political representation for ordinary people.