Kevin Rudd’s changes to the ALP’s industrial relations policy announced today make one wonder what the policy will look like come the election. For all the hysteria surrounding WorkChoices, the ALP’s policy is starting to look remarkably similar to Howard’s.
The first big changes came with Rudd agreeing to retain the Australian Building and Construction Commission until 2010. Then Julia Gillard firmly stated that the ABCC’s funding would be retained at current levels.
Now we are witnessing likely changes to the ALP’s common law agreements that may give such agreements many of the features of AWA’s. There seems to be a continuing strengthening of restrictions on unions to enter worksites limiting their capacity to cause strikes. Unfair dismissal may now not be available to workers in small businesses for the first two years of employment.
What’s happening to the workers party? The fear and loathing about evil bosses is dissipating. Is political reality winning out over commitment to the collectivist cause? Possibly it is because there are commercial events unfolding that are proving that Howard’s workplace reforms are delivering results beyond expectations.
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The construction sector is the major example. The reforms to construction were really the design product of Tony Abbott’s reign as workplace relations minister. The new laws and administration of them have been well designed and executed. They were fully implemented quickly after Howard gained control of the Senate. They have had time to have an impact “on the ground” and to deliver benefits.
The Econtech report commissioned by the ABCC showed around a 10% lift in productivity. Unions dismissed this report as politically inspired. But the Australian Constructors Association released last week a report by Allens Consulting showing near identical outcomes to that found by Econtech. Talk to any construction manager and the story is the same.
Generally the industry is agog at the speed and scale of the changes. Profits are up by about a third, wages and productivity both up by about ten percent. The number of people employed in both the construction and housing sectors now exceeds one million. Industrial disputes have collapsed to near zero.
And everyone in the industry except the unions are loudly saying it’s the result of Howard’s workplace reforms. Industry leaders have not been backward in delivering this message to Rudd. The results must be showing up in state government infrastructure spend as massive savings.
The pressure on Rudd to replicate most features of Howard’s workplace reforms must be enormous.