They’ve come back. Sorta. Tim Gartell might have given Joe McDonald and Kevin Reynolds and some other “ridiculously self-indulgent” union types a gentle rebuke in his Press Club address yesterday, but the ACTU is stirring.

In The Australian, Brad Norrington and Patricia Karvelas report:

… the Rudd Government faces a strong union protest over plans to exclude workers earning more than $100,000 a year from penalty rates, shift loadings and other conditions as a concession to business.

Over at The Age, Michael Bachelard tells us that:

… the ACTU’s governing executive resolved yesterday to urge the new Government to ‘restore sooner rather than later’ some protection for workers, including the ability to negotiate with employers to insert an unfair dismissal clause in agreements”.

The Age quotes Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard’s pressie as saying “Our policy has been announced and that’s what we will move on … ACTU campaigns are a matter for the ACTU and the unions.”

But are the ACTU suspicious of the new government? They might have good reason to be.

Gillard outlined the schedule for industrial relations changes on Meet the Press last weekend. A bill to phase out Australian Workplace Agreements will be ready when parliament returns next year, but further legislation, including changes to unfair dismissal laws, may not be tabled until the middle of next year.

The AWAs legislation should get through the Senate, even on the current numbers. Barnaby Joyce has effectively said he will cross the floor on the issue. Steve Fielding won’t be a problem. But unfair dismissal? That’s a very different issue. Gillard is obviously waiting for the new Senate before submitting that legislation, but the new Senate make-up won’t guarantee its passage.

The Greens are in the pay of some of the more radical unions, but together Labor and the Greens won’t have the numbers.

Joyce will give them no joy. Unfair dismissal is very different to AWAs for someone with his solid small business background.

While Fielding is scarcely an IR hardliner, he will probably also put small business first – just like SA independent Senator Nick Xenophon (who flirted with the Liberals many years ago).

Repeal of the unfair dismissal laws could well be an impossibility.

This will be a huge disappointment to the ACTU. But will it be a disappointment to a Labor government in its first term that will want to look as economically responsible as possible?

Not at all – and they can still tell the bruvvers they would love to see the laws change, but simply do not have the numbers.