Labor will always provide Safeguards for workers

13 July 2012

Productivity Commission Chairman Gary Banks’ presentation yesterday at the Economics Society conference on competition policy was an independent contribution from a respected participant in our national economic debate.

 The Gillard Government’s views on Australia’s workplace relations regime are clear. What is not clear is Tony Abbott’s plans for competition in workplace relations.

 The Government does not believe in unfettered and unbridled competition in labour markets, where people are forced to compete for less and less.

 The bottom line is that people are not products, something Mr Banks himself noted yesterday.

 Labour market regulation exists to provide safeguards to ensure there is not a race to the bottom on wages and conditions. We shall never let the Australian workforce suffer unbridled exposure to dystopian market theory.

 A Labor Government will never support leaving the wages and conditions of Australian workers to the market alone. To allow that to occur would simply be a recipe for exploitation.

 We shall always support greater productivity and competition that leads to higher standards of living for all Australians, underpinned by a balanced safety net.  That is Labor’s unequivocal record.

 Labor’s Fair Work Act and its focus on collective bargaining at the enterprise level provides plenty of room for working arrangements to be tailored to the need of the employers and workers, and to build productive, competitive and successful businesses.

 The Fair Work Act also prohibits conduct like unprotected industrial action and secondary boycotts.

 Only Labor will stand up for the safety net, while those on the conservative side of politics believe that the only way to increase competition and productivity is to strip away safeguards and entitlements from Australian workers.

 The consequences of deregulated labour market competition on ordinary Australian workers were evident in the Howard Government’s failed workplace relations policies that included:

 stripping the safety net away from Australian workers who lost their penalty rates, leave loadings and holiday pay;

  • allowing workers to be sacked for no reason at all;

  • undermining the award system; and

  • stripping the powers of the independent umpire.

 There is nothing fair, sensible or reasonable about allowing unfettered free market competition philosophy to overwhelm the longstanding principle of a fair go all round in Australian workplaces. 

 Yet that is precisely what is at risk if the Coalition were allowed to implement their extreme views. Treating people as commodities has never been consistent with Labor values, and it never will be. 

 What the national economic debate sorely needs is for Tony Abbott to come clean on the detail of his labour market policies.