Abbott government to look closely at workplace relations

The Productivity Commission inquiry into the Fair Work Act will cover pay and conditions, penalty rates, workplace flexibility, and militant unions.

Fairfax Media obtained a leaked a leaked draft of the inquiry’s terms of reference and reported that it will look at how the Fair Work Act affects employment, productivity, business investment, and how the labour market responds to changing economic conditions.

The draft referred to the broad aim of ''fair and equitable pay and conditions for employees, including the maintenance of a relevant safety net.''

The Government’s hope to reform workplace relations is moderated by its policy at last year’s federal election. It promised that it would not alter penalty rates during this term of government. And it pledged that no worker would be worse off under a Coalition Government.

However, it has already introduced legislation to allow workers to trade off conditions like penalty rates in return for more flexible hours and there is pressure among the business community and others to go further with industrial relations reforms.

There has been pressure from the business community and others for the government to go further on IR reform. For example, Federal Liberal backbencher Dan Tehan told the ABC that penalty rates need to be changed and he wants Sunday loadings to be halved.

According to ACTU president Ged Kearney, the government is heading back towards the unpopular WorkChoices policy of the Howard government.

''Everything is up for grabs: awards, penalty rates, enterprise bargaining, protection from unfair dismissal. The inquiry means that all the elements of WorkChoices that people hated are back on the table, including individual contracts,'' she told Fairfax.

''It confirms that the Abbott government is determined to weaken the industrial relations system that protects Australian workers and is part of their overall plan to undermine their take-home pay and decent standard of living.”

The Fairfax report said the terms of reference had yet to be signed off by cabinet, with the review likely to wait until after the WA Senate election re-run is over. It is due for completion in April next year.