Crikey has done a sweep of the main industry sectors to get their verdict on Labor’s rejigged Industrial Relations policy. And the overwhelming consensus? Yawn.

Mr Peter Hendy, Chief Executive, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry:

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry says that the Australian economy and employers will still face higher labour costs, increased union power and more workplace regulation under Labor’s industrial relations policy, even with the changes announced [on Tuesday]. This announcement is window dressing on a policy that will severely damage the Australian economy. It is an inadequate response to the serious issues raised by businesses across the economy, including small and medium employers. A policy that would already add red tape would now be further complicated with more complexity over transition and implementation. The bottom line for business is not whether Labor has made a genuine attempt to fix problems with its policy, but whether they have in fact been fixed. They have not.

Mitchell H. Hooke, Chief Executive, Minerals Council of Australia:

[T]he ALP has gone to considerable lengths to address the industry’s concerns about “backsliding” on two decades of workplace relations reforms, [but] the ALP policy will limit choice and flexibility in the full range of employment instruments – critical to cater for the vast operational diversity across the industry and to the modern workplace culture of collaborative, direct, mutually beneficial, employer/employee relationships. The ALP policy represents important movement but falls well short in the industry’s fundamental requirement for an appropriate substitute for the abolition of AWAs. We do not consider, as an appropriate substitute for AWAs, Labor’s proposal for employees earning over $100,000 to have access to individual common law contracts that are not subjugated by Awards but are subject to Labor’s safety net test of “10 national employment standards”.

David Crombie, President, National Farmer’s Federation:

Labor stubbornly refuses to recognise the surge in employment generated by the small business unfair dismissal exemption. Scrapping it will undo that growth and put Australian families back in unemployment queues. Labor’s alternative is no alternative all … Under the current workplace relations system, farmers in Victoria, the Territories and those incorporated farming businesses across the other states, have been freed from the onerous threat of dealing with unreasonable unfair dismissal procedures and claims … Workplace flexibility is unachievable under Labor’s retrograde bid to remove Australian Workplace Agreements, nor by adding layers of complexity to collective workplace agreements. The benefits to all Australians of two decades of reform will be wiped-out by an incoming Labor Government.

Heather Ridout, Chief Executive, Australian Industry Group:

By pledging to retain key elements of the current workplace relations framework, the Federal Opposition has addressed some major risks and uncertainties inherent in their original Forward with Fairness policy. This will go some way to allaying business concerns. As well, while business remains disappointed with the decision to abolish AWAs, the transitional arrangements appear workable and will provide more certainty for affected employers and employees than earlier proposals … However, important questions raised by Ai Group in relation to Labor’s ‘compulsory’ collective bargaining model have not been answered in this policy document – these include: how compulsory collective bargaining is triggered; what good faith bargaining will look like; what can be bargained for; and whether there will be compulsory arbitration. Further clarification on these matters is required … Finally, there will be strong opposition from business to the slashing of the threshold for unfair dismissal claims. Companies will be very nervous that it will be a return to the bad old days despite assurances to the contrary.

Steve Knott, Australian Mines and Metals Association:

It is not in the national interest to abolish the current workplace relations system to one that belongs to a bygone era. Our current modern industrial relations system provides a complete range of agreement making options including, individual, collective and greenfields agreements. The ALP policy to remove individual AWAs represents a roll back to the IR union controlled environment that existed in the 70’s and 80’s.

Housing Industry Association’s Managing Director Ron Silberberg:

Labor’s ‘Forward with Fairness’ provides a framework for balancing the demands for flexibility and fairness in the workplace…HIA supports Labor’s commitment to zero tolerance towards intimidation or violence by any third party in the building and construction industry. HIA has concerns in this area and Labor has responded…Importantly, today’s announcement addresses the key issues employers face in negotiating fair but flexible wages and conditions for business particularly small business under both awards and agreements.

Director of employee relations for the Australian Retailers Association, Suzanne White:

We are disappointed that what is on offer doesn’t meet what we see is a necessary part of the industrial relations system, and that is an individual agreement making option for the future…They may have addressed the mining industry’s concern excluding them from award coverage if they earn over $100,000, but retail is not in that situation. Our employees earn in the $20,000-$30,000 a year…We can’t see anything here to address our concern that common law contracts simply do not allow us to contract out any terms of the awards, so those retailers who want to do individual agreements in the future won’t have that option available to them. From that point of view we still have serious concerns.

Company statement, BHP Billiton

We acknowledge and have appreciated the consultative process the ALP has been working through and the considerable policy progress this announcement represents from what was approved at the ALP Conference earlier this year. The updated policy does provide a level of flexibility for our higher paid employees, which will enable us to have employment arrangements that are beneficial to those employees and the company. We also welcome the proposal that all new collective agreements will be required to contain a flexibility clause which will enable us to enter into individual flexibility arrangements with individual employees covered by the agreements and that there will be the ability to reach employee collective agreements without any union involvement. We are encouraged that the ALP has retained key compliance measures that currently exist, such as return to work orders for unprotected industrial action and the ban on secondary boycotts under the Trade Practices Act. We are also pleased that there will be no change to the current right of entry provisions.