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Minister Andrews talks about Workchoices

February 23 2006 - In a Melbourne speech to the Australian Retailers Association Victoria Kevin Andrews, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, focused on the Workchoices Act due to come into effect in March.

He began by drawing attention to the importance of the retailing industry in Australia:

"Retail is of great importance to the Australian economy contributing $42.5 million or 5.2 per cent to GDP and employing 1.5 million Australians, " he said. "Further as you are aware, the retail industry is a well established industry with an annual turnover of over $17 billion."

He went on to argue that continuous waves of reform were essential to the growth of the retailing sector and the economy as a whole:

"Keeping the reform process going so that each new wave of reform will generate a further wave of productivity increases thereby building a platform for ongoing economic growth and prosperity." He continued.

"This approach has helped to build one of the strongest economies in the world. Since the Howard Government came to office we have seen:

  • better wage increases;
  • better productivity outcomes;
  • a low-inflation rate and low-interest rate environment;
  • the lowest unemployment in nearly 30 years; and
  • this has all happened without adding to income equality.

"Whilst the Government is proud of this achievement, we realise that we cannot stand still," he said.

"The Howard Government wants to continue the shift away from an 'old industrial relations' system where the rights of employers and employees were controlled and could only be changed by industrial tribunals together with lawyers, unions and employer associations. That is why the Howard Government introduced the WorkChoices Act."

Most of the provisions of the Act will come into effect in late March of this year. Kevin Andrews argued that the Act would benefit small businesses, stripping out a lot of bureaucracy. However, he acknowledged that it had attracted a great deal of controversy.

Union criticisms based on 'fiction'

Kevin Andrews said: "The union movement and the Labor Party spread the myths of industrial relations reforms that:

  • Employers will always exploit workers;
  • Our industrial relations institutions represent the interests of all members of the community;
  • Union interests are always the same as those of all employees;
  • A system founded on conflict and an institutionalised 'us' and 'them' mentality guaranteed fairness;
  • The reforms were radical and revolutionary rather than evolutionary; and
  • There was no economic case for change

He continued: "The self indulgent jeremiads from the opponents of workplace relations reform was all about enforcing the arcane rules of the old industrial relations system.

"It was about preserving a system that had to be based on disputes that were interstate and a system of awards awash with arcane rules intended to enforce uniformity in working conditions across industries with no regard to the circumstances in different parts of the country or the need of individual businesses and their employees.

"The campaign against the Government's WorkChoices Act was based on a fiction-that more flexible employment arrangements are unfair to employees.


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