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Deep divisions over workplace relations changes

September 25 2005 - Australia is deeply divided over changes to workplace relations legislation, according to the September 2005 Sensis® Consumer Report

79% of consumers and 87% of small business owners are aware of the workplace relations debate.

"It is definitely an issue that is making Australians stand up and take notice," said report author Christena Singh.

45% of consumers who were aware of the issue felt the proposed changes would have a negative impact on them.

"When we asked why Australians thought the changes would impact negatively on them, they gave us four main reasons.

"They thought it would result in a loss of rights, that employers would be in a more controlling position, there would be reductions in income and less secure employment," Ms Singh explained.

A mere 11% of Australians surveyed felt the changes would have a positive impact, while 44% thought there would be no real impact either way. The main reasons for positive views were that the changes would lead to a fairer and more flexible system or because the repondents were employers.

"The report highlights that Australians in the main believe the proposed changes would not be good for them," she said.

"However, the result swings the other way when we speak to small business operators."

Almost 60% of small business operators who are aware of the issue supported changes in the workplace relations environment. Just over a quarter thought that changes in legislation would have a positive impact on their business.

"In fact, households that have a business interest are almost three times more likely to believe workplace relations changes would have a positive impact on them," she noted.

28% of small businesses did not support changes to workplace relations system and 6% believed changes would have a negative impact. Ms Singh said small businesses are increasingly hiring contractors to avoid potential unfair dismissal actions.

"More than one quarter of small businesses told us they had not hired extra staff because of the current legislation," she said.

"So as you can see, there are deep divisions about this issue in the community.

"A net 34 per cent of consumers, on the one hand, believe the changes would have a negative impact.

"On the other side, a net 22 per cent of business owners believe the changes would have a positive impact."

Part-time workers hold more pessimistic views than full time workers - 39% of part-timers believe the changes will have a negative impact on them compared with 31% of full-timers. 57% of union members take a negative view compared with 26% of non-union members. In terms of income, the highest income households (over $85,000) are least likely (27%) to believe the changes would have a negative impact on them.

"However, what may be surprising to some people, are the views of the lowest income group - those earning less than $35,000," said Ms Singh.

38% of respondents in the under $35,000 bracket believed the changes would have a negative impact on them compared with 35% of middle income earners.

Ms Singh considered that voting behaviour had influenced Australians’ views about the workplace relations system. Just over half of Liberal voters and two-thirds of National Party voters support changes to the workplace relations system. But a mere 7% of Labor Party voters supported changes to the system.

"Interestingly, though, the issue has also appeared to impact on people’s voting intentions at the next federal election," she commented.

9% of voters who have swung from the coalition since the last election said the workplace relations legislation policies was the reason.



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