Shouting about how Labor’s industrial relations policies will be bad for business might make the business spruikers feel better but Labor Leader Kevin Rudd will not be disturbed by the noise.

For Labor, being attacked by BHP Billiton and a sandwich shop owner on the same day has its benefits.

The anger of the big end of town at changes to the law to take bargaining power from employers and put it in the hands of workers gives the vast majority of Australians who work for wages a good reason to vote Labor.

It puts an end to the suggestion that it does not really matter who wins the next election because the two major parties are basically the same. Clearly they are not and Labor retains its traditional links with labour while the Liberal-National coalition continues to represent the interests of capital.

It might no longer be a case of socialism versus capitalism but the labour/capital divide remains a real one. Voters later this year will have a clear choice as to which of the two interests its government should favour.

All the opinion polls I have seen suggest that the majority of Australians currently favour a government leaning the way of the workers. The new laws introduced by Prime Minister John Howard are considered to have gone too far. Mr Rudd’s promise to take the laws backwards is judged as a good thing not a bad one.

The onus between now and polling day is on Mr Howard to change that judgment and he wants companies like BHP Billiton to publicly put the case for the employment benefit that comes from a policy of giving greater freedom to employers to determine pay and conditions.

Yesterday the former Big Australian and current world giant obliged. So too did Julie Fierro from behind the counter of her Lush Food Bar in Sydney’s Strathfield Plaza. Ms Fierro told the Daily Telegraph that prohibiting Australian Workplace Agreements “is just ridiculous.”

Whereas in Western Australia there is some evidence that workers with skills in short supply have no worries about negotiating an AWA because scarcity gives them some bargaining power, workers buttering bread for a living will have a different view.

The vast majority of AWAs are at the low paid end of the market where wages have suffered from the removal of penalty rates. Ms Fierro’s comment simply reminds these people that they are the ones paying the price of a so-called reform.

Peter Fray

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